The Garden – Sunflower (II)

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Part I

When Flare awoke again, it was morning. He stretched his rays out, yawning as he did so, and set about tending to them — kindling the rays in some places and patting some flames out in others, until he was all groomed and ready for the day. He did not immediately check on the sunflower, whom he had left trembling and whimpering the night before, because he had quite forgotten about it. (We must forgive Flare a little, for the task was new; but only a little because when you are responsible for the life of something else, you ought to be very serious about it indeed.)

When Flare did remember to check on the sunflower moments later, he was startled to see that the tip of the sunflower shoot drooping.

“Oh! Were you trembling and whimpering the entire night?” Flare asked anxiously as he moved closer to the sunflower shoot and peered at it. He was worried about failing his task, of course. But although we know Flare as a proud sun, he was also kind, and he was genuinely sorry that the sunflower was feeling poorly because of his neglect.

“All right then, what can I do?” Flare asked, inching closer to the sunflower. As he did, he noticed that the sunflower shoot grew a little more upright. “Oh, do you want me to come closer to you?” Flare moved towards the shoot again. He did so cautiously to avoiding burning the sunflower with his flames. Then the most curious thing happened, two budding leaves, which Flare had not noticed before, began to wave excitedly. “Ah this is what you want then!” Flare felt very pleased with himself.

But it was not easy for Flare to be close to the sunflower shoot without hurting it. Suns are very hot and although Flare could pull his flames closer to him and cool some of them, he could not put them out altogether without putting himself out as a sun. So he had to hold himself very carefully, and very still. But this he did, because he noticed that the sunflower shoot stood taller the nearer he went, and finally its budding leaves rustled in a sigh of delight when Flare was almost right beside it.

And so, Flare stood beside it all through the day; and then he stood beside it until stars rose in the inky night and both of them slept once again.

The next day, Flare awoke to a soft but clear “meep”. The sunflower was no longer a shoot, but had a tight bud at the tip of its stem.

“You have grown!” Flare exclaimed!

The sunflower waved the sharp tip of its bud in response.

“Can you understand me?” Flare asked in wonder as he leaned his warm face closer to the sunflower, careful not to burn him.

The sunflower rustled its leaves then, lightly tickling Flare’s cheeks.

Flare laughed at the touch, and then realised that the sunflower was not burnt although his face was as hot as the rest of him.

“You’re a hardy little one! Shall I take you around your little glass house then?” Flare smiled and swept the sunflower up on a flattened palm of flame. “I shall show you this, our home, for a while.”

And so, Flare and the sunflower spent many days exploring the nooks and crannies of the glass house; and the sunflower slept each night wrapped in the warm licks of Flare’s flames.

Then one day, Flare woke up to a mewling yawn. When he opened his eyes, he saw the sunflower’s tight bud began to unfurl slowly, until a sooty face framed with bright yellow petals was revealed.

“Hello,” the Sunflower said shyly.

“Oh hello!” Flare exclaimed, wondering at the constant surprises the sunflower brought. “I’m Flare.”

“I’m Sunflower.”

“So you are!” Flare said. “You are all sturdy and grown up now — a real sunflower! Come! Let us go out of this glass house, and explore this planet today!” For Flare was an explorer at heart, and quite delighted that he could now bring Sunflower out of the glass house, and into the warm beauty of the golden planet.

So for many day, Sunflower kept by Flare’s side as they explored the planet together. He snuggled in Flare’s warm flames at night, accompanied him around the glass house in the day, watched as Flare blazed across the skies of the planet.

It was a new feeling for Flare. He lit up entire planets as a sun, his light moved civilizations, but no on had depended on him in this way. On him, not his energy, not what he could give in warmth and life. No one had liked him in any way for he had always was a proud sun.

“Why do you like me?” He asked the Sunflower one day.

“You are my sun.” Sunflower said simply, and something in Flare’s roaring heart stirred. Perhaps, this was the start of the peace he wanted to find all along, here, in this Garden.

(But you must know by now, that there is a catch in the story. There always is.)

Suns, they are not made for glasshouses. Not while they are young and blazing. Not even if the glasshouse had a sunflower in it. Suns are not made even for an entire golden planet. Soon, Flare found himself longing for the breath of the skies and the wind from the stars.  He did not want to leave the sunflower, but the sunflower was a flower. He was too young and delicate for Flare to bring beyond the warm atmosphere of the golden planet and into the biting ocean of stars and planets.

(You may know how this feels. Sometimes you love someone very much and want to make them happy; but you also want to do things which you know will not. We are all selfish sometimes.)

So Flare began to sneak out of the glass house, off the golden planet. First, for short snaps of time when Sunflower was having his afternoon naps. He always came back before Sunflower awoke.

But slowly, Flare felt the need to go further, for longer. Here was an asteroid belt, glittering like diamonds, just a bit further away. Here was a rain of comets, here a sparkling bridge across the galaxies. And so, he did. But Sunflower was always asleep when he returned.

Until one day, he came home to the sad sooty face of the Sunflower.

“Why do you leave?” Sunflower had asked him. It was after Flare had spent a particularly long time away, basking in a seasonal shower of stars.

“I leave because I am a sun, and I had always roamed the entire universe.” Flare said gently, feeling guilty at Sunflower’s forlorn expression.

“This house, this planet, it is not enough?” Sunflower asked.

“It was enough for many many days. And you are still the light of my mornings, and the warmth of my nights.” Flare answered.

“Can I come?” Sunflower asked timidly.

“Ah, you are a sunflower, I am a sun. You are not made to go beyond this planet. I fear you will wither out where I go.” Flare answered solemnly.

“Oh.” Sunflower said sadly. “But you must go. So here, I shall wait.”

“I will always come back.” Flare said then, but with a heavy heavy heart.

(Of course, Flare did not know it then. He would never know. But Sunflower had adored him so — he knew from the very first time Flare left him, and had even then, Sunflower had been waiting.)

Then one day, Flare returned him after his afternoon jaunts as usual. To his surprise, Sunflower was not in the glass house and there was shattered glass in a corner of the house. Flare looked round hurriedly and caught a glimpse of bright yellow out by the stream. He sped over.

“Look!” Sunflower said, looking up in excitement when he heard Flare. He was brandishing a roughly hewn prism of glass. “It took many tries to get the shape right, but look! When the glass is like so, and the sun shines through it… Rainbows!” Sunflower beamed widely then, pleased with himself, as his prism broke light into little rainbows on the grass.

“Oh yes.” Flare said, relieved that Sunflower was safe. “Have you been at this the whole afternoon?”

Sunflower nodded. There was no trace of disappointment or sadness at being left behind by Flare on this day.

“Tomorrow, I’ll try to make a bigger one!” Sunflower declared happily.

“All right then, let’s head back now.” Flare reached out to Sunflower and linked a flame with one of Sunflower’s leaves, pleased that Sunflower now had interests of his own.

Of course Flare did not see it then, not in that moment when he glimpsed the return of his freedom. But later on, he would remember that this was first time the sunflower had stopped longing for him. This was the first time Flare was no longer the centre of Sunflower’s world. Sunflower was no longer waiting for him.

Then time, time came and went.

(You may remember that Flare was on a quest to find a permanent place in the Garden. He had almost forgotten himself because in some way, he already had what he wanted. But every story must move towards an end, and here is how it happened for Flare.)

For at long last, Flare woke up one day to feel a rising warmth beside him, and opened his eyes to find that Sunflower was no longer a lanky shoot with a sooty face framed by bright yellow petals.

“You are a sun!” Flare exclaimed in wonder, realising at once that this was the miraculous occurrence the Gardener had spoken of, the first time he set foot on the edge of the Garden.

“Yes!” Sunflower, now the sun named Sunflower, smiled.

(t.b.c.)


Interstellar

Interstellar

“One day, tens of millions of years from now, someone will find me rusted into the mud of a world they have never seen, and when they crumble me between their fingers, it will be you they find.”  from The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson. 

Interstellar was an amazing movie — there is really no way else to underscore how beautifully filmed, how compellingly acted, how hauntingly scored and how movingly scripted it was.

To set a bit of context, an immediate comparison would be with Christopher Nolan’s other original screenplay, Inception. Both were films that explored new worlds — Inception plumbed into the depths of the human mind, while Interstellar reached into outer space. Both had a strong emotional core founded on familial love. On the other hand, I found Inception to be the more original movie with the more inventive concept of traversing the human mind. It was also a snappier movie, structured and paced similarly to the Ocean’s Eleven series. Interstellar started slower, was more lovingly paced, and in many ways was both a bigger and smaller movie compared to Inception.

[Possible Spoiler Alert]

Acting. The outstanding strength of Interstellar to me, was how compelling the acting was — one of the best works by Matthew McConaughey who has already been delivering stellar performances in recent works such as ‘Mud’ and ‘Dallas Buyers’ Club’ (the latter won him an Academy award). I was completely drawn in by his acting, and basically laughed when he did, cried when he did, and felt each nuance of his emotions when he did. One particular scene after an action sequence really caught me and had me literally sobbing in my seat. The rest of the cast delivered strong performances as well, with Jessica Chastain deserving a special mention for bringing a lot of emotional complexity into her character with limited screen time. That said, I think the acting were stymied in some cases for the want of stronger characterization and a deeper plot.

Characterization. For me, it was no wonder that McConaughey and Chastain gave the best performances, because their characters were also better fleshed out and we are given a fuller and more nuanced glimpse of their relationship at the beginning of the movie. I also felt that the treatment of the rest of the Cooper family was sufficient for us to understand the family dynamics. What was a pity to me though, was how Matt Damon and Michael Caine’s characters were not sufficiently developed in the limited screen time given to them. Both their characters had motivations which were tied to bigger themes that Nolan probably tried to explore — but because the treatment felt superficial and rushed, the exploration of the themes felt cursory and the actions of both characters (and the big reveals associated with them), felt more like plot devices to move the story along rather than to add real depth to the movie.

Plot. To begin, I must say that I found Interstellar to be a very engaging and enjoyable movie. The pace felt right to me — some may find the initial set-up to be a bit drawn out, but I thought the time devoted to characterizing the main characters and establishing the family dynamics was important. Accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s score, the plot drew the right emotions at the right point — grief, joy, regret, determination, redemption. But I mentioned earlier that the plot was less original than Inception, and that is mainly because some of the key plot points underpinning the story were concepts that any science fiction fan would be familiar with.  That said, there is still something to be said for how Nolan weaved the different parts of the plot together to still retain sufficient originality in the movie. Ultimately, I enjoyed the movie, and never found myself bored nor incredulous and that makes it a great movie for me.

Themes. Interstellar is a big movie, as one would expect for any movie that involves traversing space and time. But at the heart of it, it is about very small things. Hope. Love. Family. It was these intimate themes that were best explored, supported by the strong performances of the cast. However, Nolan was also ambitious about bringing in larger themes, of survival, of false hope and illusions, and I found these themes to have fallen somewhat flat, and felt almost artificial where introduced and discussed. It was probably for the lack of screen time, since Interstellar already ran long at three hours, so perhaps Nolan could have done away with these.

Cinematography. As we have come to expect from Christopher Nolan, the cinematography was breathtaking. There’s been a number of movies exploring other worlds, whether they are dystopian futures on Earth, or somewhere within space in recent years (Prometheus, Elysium, Oblivion among others) so the bar is set high on how these worlds can be imagined and brought to life on screen. I found Nolan’s treatment of the space travel, the different planets, and the last bit to be both plausible and authentic, yet visually awe-inspiring. It was a beautiful film that really was a pleasure to watch.

[Definite Spoiler Alert]

Of course, here I am being an armchair critic but there are two things I would have liked to see in the film.

  • The relationship between Michael Caine and Anne Hathaway. The father and daughter pair in the film were definitely close, and Hathaway did follow in her father’s footsteps. But Caine also chose to lie about a very important thing to Hathaway and it was not apparently or immediately understandable why. There was limited screen time, to be fair, but I also felt that greater care could have been given to the times when both did appear onscreen together and interacted to give a fuller picture of what their relationship was like. McConaughey’s first interactions with the NASA team was probably the best opportunity to flesh out Caine and Hathaway’s characters and relationships (also of Damon’s) more.
  • Matt Damon’s character. He was lauded as the best of us (us humans, that is) but while this was often repeated, it was a lot of “telling” and no real showing. Later on when his character “fell”, it was not clear how that happened and in turn, the accompanying theme on human survival instincts felt superficial and abrupt. Again, some subtle clues and facts could have been weaved in when the NASA team was first introduced to make Damon’s character more authentic.

Just as a closing thought, apart from the typical review above, the film really resonated with me. One of the first things that struck me was how it reminded me of Jeanette Winterson’s ‘The Stone Gods’, still one of my favorite books. The actual themes were quite different, but both used the exploration of vastness, of different worlds, to unravel the intricacies of very intimate feelings.

But more than that, I am a parent now and McConaughey’s drive to protect and save his family, his simultaneous reluctance to leave coupled with his desire to be his authentic self, and his eventual yearning to return to them, these were feelings I could identify with. I was brought to tears at so many points in the movie because those moments struck deep chords.

And most most most of all, I left with such a profound sense of passion and purpose. I can hardly call myself a writer, but I write, and this is what we — filmmakers, poets, authors, musicians, artists — do. We imagine, and bring to life the worlds were only in our minds. We feel, and make these feelings real and tangible through our words and colours and sounds and pictures. Each work is a creation of an experience transcending the mundane, into terrains of rough, difficult beauty. This is what I want to never stop doing.

I never want to strop writing.