Skins Pure: Complexity of Love and What Can be Learned from It

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Compared to my drama-filled days of the previous year, nothing remarkable has happened all winter. I’ve been feeling especially numb and uninspired the last couple of days that I’ve stayed indoors. The thought that my mind wasn’t developing in any way bothered me and kept me awake last night. I wanted so badly to feel something and unconsciously searched for an antidote in Skins.

I was 17 when I first watched the renowned UK television series. I remember I was impressed by how raw the whole series was, and I say “impressed” because I didn’t think that all the alcohol, the drugs and the sex were simply vulgar but truly real. In the end, all of those stirring controversy were tools to present a realer-than-real reflection of being human- with complications that come from relationships and insecurities from being unable to answer the deeper questions of life about self-identity, self-actualization and death. After that summer when I finished watching all the episodes, I felt a dramatic change within me. I stopped naively expecting the good from the world and formed a somewhat cynical perspective, but came to believe even more strongly that there is beauty in being human and goodness in struggling to be true. It’s difficult to describe. This series shook my outlook on the world and I think I still carry its influences to this day.

Years later, Skins had a reboot, showing the young adult lives of three of its characters; and I was thoroughly moved once again. It did not fail to maintain that coarse reflection of reality, nonetheless with a warm gaze at humanity at its core. To my understanding, all of the characters face bleak fates in the end, which felt very honest because being an adult in the real world has more disappointments than delights; but there is still hope because you see that the characters make mistakes, comeback and repeat, following their heart all the while, and you still believe in their genuine goodness at the end, which get you to trust that things will work out. Out of the three, Cassie’s story was the one that made me feel the most. I cried so much. Cassie (played by Hannah Murray) was a character that always seemed so alone and this hadn’t changed as an adult. I couldn’t understand all that was going on in Cassie’s world, possibly because she is undeniably one of the most complex characters in the series, yet I could feel her loneliness like it was mine and it was painful. I remembered this pain I once felt, and clicked on the play button to Skins Pure with expectation for familiar emotions and anticipation for new interpretations.

 

In the original series, I viewed Cassie with the idea that she is essentially a victim of unrequited love. Indifference of Sid and her parents let her down again and again. As an adult, this is something she continues to deal with; and I believe her journey to learning about love is at the core of Skins Pure.

We first get a grasp of how Cassie has changed, or not changed. She’s isolated as always, but she does it more obviously as an adult. Her room is decorated with sheets hanging from the ceiling, which turns her room into a kind of a fortress. Almost all of the shots showing Cassie in her room are framed with parts of the sheets covering some of the camera. Her room is presented as a safe house from all the commotion in the world. Also, outside noise gets muted and a peaceful tune turns on as she puts on her headphones to further consolidate the impression that Cassie intentionally shuts herself from the world.

She is also seen stripping off her clothes in moments of complete freedom. She stands by the window and dances to the night sky. These behaviors suggested to me that she leans towards being natural for comfort. Elements of nature, namely water and air, literally give her peace. Her expression and the non-diegetic peaceful music imply that she wholly enjoys her morning shower. The music continues as she goes to a park and watches kites flying, and rides alone on the bus to work, wiping away the condensation from the window for a clearer look outside. It seems that purity is something she desires and the reason for her self-inflicted isolation.

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In moments of panic and confusion, Cassie turns to nature for answers. With rage, she takes away Jakob’s camera and heads straight to the park. She almost drops it into the water, perhaps to “purify” in her own way what she perceives to be the source of harm, but stops as she suddenly lays eyes on a broken kite. She brings it back to fix it, and this suggests to the audience that she has taken nature’s hint not to destroy something pure (referring to the camera and Jakob’s photography) but rather give it a chance to soar.

Another scene where nature guides Cassie’s decisions is when the sheet she has put to cover her windows fall off and she approaches the windows to open them wide with enchantment in her eyes. She lets go of her fears and free once again as she dances to her peaceful music.

 

Cassie’s relationship with Jakob is an interesting one. I’ve read many reviews saying they were disgusted that the plot beautified the objectification of women, and they weren’t convinced by the innocent music played over the photography. Yes, there certainly exists objectification, but what is important to discern is that it isn’t done by the series but by Jakob- a character. With his pictures, he creates a beautiful and mysterious image out of Cassie. When Cassie first finds out, she is scared and angered, which are natural reactions to being stalked. She decides to give him a chance, however, because she wants more in life. She wants love. So they make a pact: Jakob can love Cassie and Cassie can be loved by Jakob. What is important to notice here is that Cassie lets him objectify her. She also maintains her agency throughout the duration of their friendship. An example of which is when she says, “Don’t” to Jakob before he presses the shutter to get a picture of her looking out the window from her dad’s room, clearly dictating that she won’t let her personal life permeate her photography. Doesn’t it become obvious that something more complex is taking place when a woman willingly chooses to become objectified? I rather believe that the creators of this series intended to use the beautified objectification of women to strengthen their ultimate claim that love is difficult to achieve, especially when it stems from something so flawed. This agreement is indeed “pure” for their bond stands as their desires can coexist. Their compatibility is made even more believable mise en scene-wise. There are individual long shot of Cassie and Jakob that emphasize their loneliness and purity at heart.

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However, their trip to Wales complicates their relationship. The pact worked because Cassie only wanted to be loved and not love back, while Jakob only wanted to love and not be loved back. Through meeting Cassie’s dad, Jakob truly understands Cassie; and Cassie gets that Jakob understands and genuinely cares about her. There are so many instances where Jakob says the right things. The very first instance is where he asks Cassie, “Did he ever paint you?” while looking at a beautiful painting of her mum by her dad. This question reveals how much Jakob adores Cassie, because it underlies that he thinks Cassie is beautiful and worthy to be the model of an art work. His understanding of Cassie’s isolation from her family is evident when he says to the painting, “Took up some room, didn’t you?” In the scene where he talks to Cassie’s dad, it’s almost as if he directly took words out of Cassie’s mouth. In talking to the dad about why he thinks Cassie will never want a boyfriend, he says, “I’m thinking.. maybe you fucked her up? … But not on purpose” and adds “Don’t put [raising Cassie’s little brother, Reuben] on her. You’re supposed to get your shit together.” The kite that Cassie fixed (and apparently gave to Reuben as a gift) flys as Jakob consoles Cassie by bringing along Reuben to cheer her up for the photo shoot.

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Then they cross the line: Cassie begins to love Jakob and Jakob starts wanting to be loved. Cassie recognizes that Jakob only really cares about how good the pictures are and how the two feel about them, when she asks him if he sold them after seeing them at a club, to which he replies, “Why would I do that”. The purity of it finally gets across to her and she says, “Jakob, I love you”, to which he replies, “I love you too”. It proceeds rapidly from then. She does a professional fashion photoshoot and receives much adoration. I think she agrees to do it mainly because she enjoys the love, but I bet she felt some certainty that Jakob will feel happy for her, now that it’s clear they love each other. But because they have stepped out of what they first signed up for, they misunderstand and hurt the other, which terminate whatever pure that they had together. Once the tricky balance they built their love upon breaks down, all comes to an end unannounced to leave Cassie broken hearted.

 

What Cassie experiences becomes more relatable via her conversation with Maddie (played by Charlene McKenna), whom Cassie runs into just after storming out of the office building where Jakob was camping in. What the two essentially talk about is the dreamer’s unrequited love for their dreams, that when you love, it is never returned the way it should. Cassie sobs uncontrollably as Maddie talks about the discouraging reality of the world. Cassie, with doubt about the possibility of a friendly, asexual and pure love, asks Maddie about her thoughts on her relationship with a friend who she sees. To, “Don’t you mind? He’s sort of your boyfriend”, Maddie answers, “London’s fucked up. I mean, I go to auditions for my glorious acting career and nothing ever happens. It’s all fucked. And yet, here we stay, fucked. We’re waiting, you know, for our lives to start”. To my understanding, this is the moment that Cassie concludes the world makes pure love impossible. Although uncertain if this is a message the producers were going for, I felt so much in this scene and the credit goes entirely to the two actors. The vacant look in McKenna’s eyes and Murray’s painful expression were elegant to say the least.

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Maddie is an important character for Cassie, as well as for the general plot. Cassie distances her from everyone, including Maddie, who first acts friendly to Cassie by offering to smoke spliff. Fear and panic from having a stalker gets Cassie to approach Maddie. She initially doesn’t expect much of a friendship from Maddie, evident from how she immediately responds to Maddie’s comment “now that we know each other”, by saying, “We don’t”. Cassie even judges her a little. When asking what Maddie does, she replies that she’s waiting for a discovery. Cassie doesn’t understand at this point that waiting is holding on and something one does actively. She fails to see the similarity she shares with her, that they both hold on. Sidenote- Cassie says, “I’m waiting… for something else”, using the word “waiting” in explaining that she doesn’t want to be in a relationship without love anymore. Maddie remembers their conversation and comes back. She enters Cassie’s fortress of blinds (which is made literally visible with the camera’s framing) and shows honest reaction. Her comment, “I wish someone could see the beauty in me like that”, gets Cassie to realize that she does enjoy having been photographed in such ways, feels adored and becomes willing to give Jakob a chance.

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Minor events throughout the story bring Cassie and Maddie closer. Their very last conversation culminates to Cassie’s understanding that they share the pain of holding on to things that they love, regardless of the disappointing nature of reality. Cassie had always been holding on. This is apparent in how she deals with past loves. In talking about Sid with Maddie, she says, “We traveled a lot until we couldn’t go any further. Then it ended, so I came home… [If] it didn’t end, it was forever”. Her relationship with Sid had a limit to it, and since her need for love could not be satisfied, she couldn’t settle and left. She talks about Sid with a coldness but she has post cards of New York in her room, signifying that she is indeed holding on to the memories.

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Likewise, Cassie holds on to what she had with Jakob. She feels hurt when he clings on and calls her a bitch for finding comfort in Yaniv, a friend who seems to understand her. Jakob’s mistreatment to her after everything had come to an end in addition to Yaniv’s advice direct her to change. Yaniv tells Cassie, “Everyone gets lonely here. It’s okay”, to which she asks, “Don’t you ever want to go home (where it’s not lonely)?”- possibly with the intention to understand why Yaniv holds on. She learns that Yaniv’s hurtful experiences home makes him prefer living in London. What’s ironic is that he advices Cassie to let go when he himself still keeps memories of his past, even letting them influence his present, which can be observed in how he collects toy soldiers. Anyways, Cassie responds, “If I can’t (let go), does it matter?” to which Yaniv says, “Everything matters”- which I assume means, “You should still try to let go. It is something worth striving to achieve”. Before leaving the two men for good, Cassie says, “Don’t spoil it, Jakob. We need to remember something good. (But) you’re right, (Yaniv). Everything matters”. Putting this drama to the past, Cassie seems to learn to let go. Almost as if in sync, Maddie leaves the flat, possibly performing an act of letting go of her dream that doesn’t come true, which may or may not lead her to accomplishment in the end.

 

Cassie’s story comes to an ambiguous end- it is difficult to conclude that it is a happy ending. Cassie chooses to take it upon herself to raise Reuben after seeing how hopeless her dad is at loving someone else than mum, even with the best of heart. Reuben is someone that she loves unconditionally and is loved back the same. For instance, he makes her happy despite being in isolation after her photoshoot for a fashion magazine. His reading of “Go, Dog, Go” can be interpreted as a message for Cassie, cheering her on. They tell each other that it’s all good. Can’t it be better though? I believe yes. When seeing the grander scheme of Cassie’s situation, not much has changed. She still has her sheets as blinds, living in her crap of a flat and traveling on a bus to return to the diner she stopped working for. Shot of Cassie waking up in the beginning and the end are copies of one another, almost as if to suggest that even with all that she has learned, nothing changes.

 

Skins Pure was difficult to read when I really got into it. With this blog post, I learned something new, that I shouldn’t try to analyze all the good films, series, shows I come across. I certainly felt emotions that were dear and precious while watching, but I feel a lot of what I felt got lost in all the dissecting and writing. I am going to have to find another method to document my responses to art. I’m excited to look outside my comfort zone.

 

 

Some beautiful shots of Cassie and Jakob:

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Written by Bryan Elsley. Directed by Paul Gay. Starring Hannah Murray and Olly Alexander.

La La Land (2016): The Love that Shines Brighter than the Dreams

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During my twenty-something years of life, I have never felt more consoled by a film than with La La Land. Anyone with a dream would have been moved by Emma Stone’s incredible performance during the final audition, but it hit me harder because I had been feeling especially lost with concerns for my future. I had just spent a couple nights going from feeling surprisingly confident about my talents and where I’m headed in my life to feeling utterly hopeless at the world that doesn’t seem to share my interests and at myself, who seemed so insignificant and powerless. La La Land was the remedy I needed right then and there. I know for sure that I’ll watch this film again and again and be differently inspired each time. So I can’t say that my appreciation for the film today is sufficient and everything that it deserves, but there are thoughts I would like to document for now.

 

I know that my judgement is probably clouded with my obsession for the idea that love fuels every human creation and is of utmost importance, but I have to say that this film, at its core, is about love. This I say to all the critics who claim that the film isn’t detailed nor fully realistic in portraying Mia (Emma Stone) and Sebastian (Ryan Gosling)’s journey to accomplishing their dreams. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think those critics are missing the point, being caught up with the theme of the film and failing to see what’s being emphasized underneath.

Don’t get me wrong. Pursuing a dream and realizing it are important to me. Although I wish this isn’t always the case for my own sake, I am an idealist- I encourage myself to dream, get myself to ceaselessly work for it and believe that there is justice in the world. So, yes, I would have liked to see Mia staging her one-woman show and Seb setting up his jazz club from scratch. Such scenes would be the epitome of their efforts at making their dreams come true, and I would have connected with them better, as a persistent dreamer myself. However, the scenes in the film were sufficient to make me understand that the characters struggle within and without, but their devotions to their dreams keep them going and will get them to their dreams. Even without seeing the process of accomplishment, I remained drawn-in to the story and could even unknowingly hold the belief that they will see their dreams come true. Seeing the details of the process wasn’t important for me because I’ve seen everything I needed to before; and, to me, the scenes before are about love.

I think that the theme of love assumes as much importance as, or even more importance than, the theme of dream in La La Land. The most obvious sign for me in realizing this was acknowledging that I cried when Mia and Seb argue over the dinner table, with a similar sense of compassion that I felt when I cried during Mia’s audition. Underneath the hurtful words in that scene, I could read their caring intentions. Mia worries that Seb was losing sight of his dream from the Hollywood haze but fails to be frank for fear of hurting his pride, while Seb cannot say that he got into it for Mia, after overhearing her phone call with her parents where she explains to them his career and financial situation with difficulty. Above all, both of them want the other to be around. Seb wants Mia to escape her daily hassles and experience the wealth, excitement and relaxation that he can provide for her. Mia wants Seb to support her when it gets difficult to hold on, for he is the one that inspired her to trust her talents and venture. Now that I think about it, Mia’s love for her dream seems to outweigh her love for Seb, when Seb’s love for Mia seems to be greater than his love for his dream…

Regardless, love never stops to drive them to do better. They first fall in love as they see so much of themselves in each other: neglected artists who seem almost foolish in keeping their dreams, but with pride, personality and true love for their passion. How they fall in love is so subtle that some critics point this out as something forcefully installed to carry out the story. But doesn’t all things human seem random at times, only to turn out to be the result of a mixture of previous influences? Their love is realistic, natural and absolutely endearing. Once they become a couple, they truly recognize the other’s talent and end up falling in love with “what (the other person is) passionate about”. Seb gets Mia to like jazz and Mia makes Seb fall in love with her personality (which is what I believe to be an actor/actress’s “talent”). I guess, in the sense that Mia herself is art, it is possible for Seb to have fallen in love with her even more.

Knowing the other’s talent, they push each other; and they push themselves for their lover. To have a future with Mia and to be the man that he thinks she wants, Seb signs a contract with the band that doesn’t entirely share his style of music. Mia brings him back to his senses in the argument as he starts to stray away from his dream. She wishes to do well with her one-woman performance that Seb has cheered her on to do, but it fails to have a big audience. What seems more despairing for her is that Seb doesn’t show up, making her dramatic move back home completely understandable (which some critics have pointed out as being unharmonious with Mia’s character, when it does make sense as their love was that important for her). Then Seb comes back to let Mia know of her audition and supports her in person this time, which does end up getting her on the track to realizing her dream.

After Mia’s successful audition, they intuitively know that they will have to part ways. Instead of saying goodbye, they tell each other that they’ll always love the other. Compared to the scene where they argue, the development in how they handle their love as two artists striving to become who they are destined to be is impressive. There is no room for miscommunication nor any need to say much anymore, because they sincerely understand one another. They trust in the unconditional love and support that the other has for them, and understand that the other’s utmost wish for them is to accomplish their dreams. Their success in the very end proved for me that their love, which came to their lives to ignite a spark of light, transcends time and space. Thus, I came to the conclusion that love, indeed, is a more fundamental theme in the film.

 

Now that I’m done with my long long analysis of why and how I watched La La Land with a focus on “love”, I want to move on to some other aspects of the film that I personally connected with.

I’m not always an emotional person, but the very first scene, a no-cut tracking shot of performers on a highway in LA, brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me of all the Uber drivers I met in LA who were aspiring screenwriters, actors and musicians. I’ve read reviews where people criticized the randomness of that first sequence, saying that it is an unnecessarily fancy performance; but it was more than a mere performance to me. It felt so real, having seen real people carrying on their lives with a smile, hoping to actualize their Hollywood dream one day. The fanciness of it brought more sorrow, because I could only imagine the effort the performers must have put in to get the scene to look so divine within a single take. I couldn’t help but think about all those actors and actresses whose names will pass me nevertheless.

A detail I loved about the film was its use of colors. I noticed how the (mostly female) underdogs of the industry are presented in bright colored clothes. Mia is seen in dresses of all the colors of the rainbow. Even in her café uniform, she dons a bright light blue scarf and/or a red tote. Then after she becomes a successful actress, she is seen in monotones, namely black and white. Another use of color in the film that I fell in love with and want to mention is the LA sky during sunset. It’s not my intention to rebut every criticism I’ve read online about this film, but I must say something about the comments that the colors in the film are inattentive of the characters’ emotions or the flow of the story, but always pastel, purple, pretty and pointless. My opinion is that this film is an homage to the people of Hollywood who overcome adversities to bring something true in this world, but also to Hollywood itself that once amazed its audience with its visual spectaculars. All of the shots are breathtakingly beautiful and, most notably, real. I’ve heard from a reliable source that the colors of the sky and all of the backgrounds weren’t edited, and the crew had to wait for the right moment to come during sunset to capture the perfect color. A message I can draw out from this particular aspect would be that there is authenticity in the beauty that Hollywood presents, and we mustn’t override the realness of it, be it its environment or its people.

I’m attaching pictures I took of the sky last year in LA. I had fallen in love with a lot of things in that city, but nothing surpassed my adoration for its sky during sunset. It’s something I hold dear to my heart and I just had to protect it.

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La La Land is a film that means so much to me. It picked me up when I was blinded by pessimism; and brought back memories of LA, with such passionate and warm-hearted people, and just incredibly beautiful in and of itself. I’m thankful, just entirely thankful.

“I trace it all back to then, her and the snow and the Seine. Smiling through it, she said she’d do it again.”

 

Directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling.

 

A Walking Tour of My Favorite Places in UCLA

On the day right before my departure back home, my friends and I took our very last and very sentimental walk from Westwood to UCLA to our apartment on Landfair. We stopped by at all our favorite food chains in Westwood to pick up one serving from each (so that we would be able to eat all those different kinds and manage not to stuff our faces to death- pretty smart, eh?), took the longer route around campus to get to an area suitable for a picnic, and traced our footsteps back home like we did every weekday for the school year. We made a big deal out of it. Being the corny person that I am, I wanted to capture every scenery in my eyes, in my memory and in my heart. So I took pictures, loads and loads of pictures, as I walked.

 

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View from Citybank, where my friends would come once a month to withdraw cash.

I still remember the impression of fanciness that the building with the dome gave me the first time I walked those streets. Yamamoto, closed last summer, still remains in the center of Westwood.

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The quiet sidewalks by the medical buildings.

I usually walked this area by myself and I’ve always felt lonely. I can’t remember when I started to find comfort in that subtle pain of being alone, but I feel warm and even energized looking at this picture now.

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A random medical building that I’ve grown to become familiar with.

I had a class in a library of rare/sacred texts and it was in a building on this corner. I got lost getting there (of course) but fortunately met a friend and we had a little adventure before we made it to class. We walked out of the building together, talking about our interests within our major. I wonder how she’s doing now.

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Views from the very last crosswalk to campus.

I hated waiting for the lights to change, so I almost always took the side road in front of the conference center. There were so many chill people on these streets each morning, while I was almost always the busiest, taking rapid steps and chomping on an apple or, preferably, a banana.

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View of the new conference center and its newly installed lights.

When these lights turned on at night, there was a strange romantic feeling it brought about in me. I always thought it was strange and kinda cute.

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Constructions going on across from the conference center.

For some reason, I thought I was going to miss the constructions that were always happening on campus. I don’t miss them too much, but maybe I will later on.

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My friend’s favorite steps.

I climbed up these steps just one time. It was a rather mellow morning and the observation that everyone always seemed to head this direction got to me out of nowhere.

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A point of intersection in campus (feat. UCLA Store, Ashe Center & John Wooden Center).

I was always lowkey scared of bumping into someone, because of the genuine chaos that existed on these grounds during the mornings.

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Kerckhoff.

I was supposed to meet a friend at a café in this building, but I got lost (which is so very typical of me). So I asked a group of random people for directions and they were so so friendly.

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The curvy brick road to get to Powell Library and the views on it.

I ran into so many people here: my former roommate, my former TA and a friend from my apartment. I was always in a rush and it’s a shame I never made time to lay down on the grassy hills, because I always thought the hills looked crazy peaceful.

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Powell Library.

From the all-nighters during exam weeks to using the media lab to watch movies for class, I have so many memories in this place.

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Royce Hall.

I kinda hate myself for hating the sunshine in front of Royce Hall.

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Not a random picture of trees casting shadows on the street.

Turning the corner here would get me to the building where I had Spanish 2. My heart used to beat a little faster from the excitement of seeing my classmates and nervousness of having to compose sentences on the spot.

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Views from the walk to Melnitz Hall, my favorite.

The only memory about this place worth keeping is the conversation I had with my Spanish TA that one time I stayed behind to pick up an assessment paper that I forgot to take the previous week. I randomly brought up my Spanish friend who I met through the international center and asked him for advice about what I should talk about with him to practice speaking. I did it purely to avoid awkward silences, but it ended up getting him to become more fond(?) of me. After that day, he greeted me differently in class, I could tell.

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The famous Sculpture Garden.

I ended up taking a very artsy picture of my friends walking ahead of me with determination to find a picnic spot.

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Our picnic food!

We ate as we made direct eye contact with the sculpture lady’s butt.

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Melnitz Hall.

The film class I took in this building opened my eyes to the fun in analyzing film and the talent I just might have in deriving meanings out of them, appreciating their values.

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North Campus open area (without the iconic purple flowers).

I spent spare hours between classes in this area, sometimes with a classmate, sometimes on my own. I always felt so relaxed and calm sitting in one of the tables.

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The path I took to get to the dorms.

These places stir up a sense of relief that I felt after a day’s end. Walking down these steps required no effort and I sometimes even enjoyed the luxury of observing the trees, the sky and all of nature.

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Student Academy Center, Kaufman Hall & Janss Steps

This area, I identify with the first couple of months in the states. I was very often confused when I first started studying at UCLA. I remember how I made use of my strolls in this area by organizing my thoughts and making plans for the day.

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Walk up to my apartment.

On this last walk, my friends and I all commented on how the red windowsills of our building is visible from that point and how it was going to be the last time we see it from this direction. I think all of us became more emotionally attached to our apartment than the campus through the months, which is natural when you think about the difference in stress that comes from taking classes (referring to the campus) and sleeping, eating and generally living (referring to the apartment).

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The tunnel.

The tunnel had so much significance. It was a meeting point for a lot of occasions too.

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Strathmore & Gayley.

I used to pass by these places a lot more when I lived in the dorms. I don’t really remember how I felt, but walking the streets for the very last time made me think about how much I felt at home when I started walking up the hills to get to my dorm room. It got me missing my days in the dorms.

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Views from my friend’s room of the surrounding area.

The two most visible things from these pictures are the tunnel and a frat house, Triangle something something. I never really did anything at one of those frat houses so it isn’t that I feel a personal tie to them, but I have an image of them in my head. With their presence, they created a loud, festive and youthful atmosphere, and I loved living close to it. I know I’m going to miss the environment, the entirety of it.

 

It’s incredible how such short amount of time spent in an area can give a person such powerful senses of belonging. I lived last year like I did all my life: I struggled with daily tasks, prioritized my enjoyment above most things, strived to connect with more people and maintained an overall “good and lawful (as my mom would say)” life. Then how come last year was so impactful while others slipped away most of the times? Now that I’ve spent some time back home, grown a little distant from my dream-like experience of living in LA, I see that there wasn’t much of a difference in how I carried out each day but in how I perceived things in my daily life. I was always mindful of “the terminating point”. Especially towards the end, I started paying more attention to detail, tried harder to remember, and everything I did meant more to me.

To take this observation a step further, I should be able to feel this much attachment to my life back home, or anywhere else, if I stay aware of the fact that there is an end to everything. Perhaps I would be able to treasure more in life if I start the day by telling myself that this life will have its end and this day will never repeat itself. I used to think that there was no point in thinking about the inevitable ephemerality of the human, since we can’t do anything about it while it so obviously exists. I thought the best way to live was to forget about that darkness at the end and live carelessly, freely and happily. Now I see that choosing to stay ignorant of the truth limits our freedom, and consequently keeps us from a grander happiness that we could have for ourselves. But I’m not advocating that we dwell on death and the end of all things, because too much of such thoughts can also keep one from experiencing all that is there in life. Ultimately, some ignorance seems necessary. In other words, we mustn’t lose the somewhat naïve hope that what we sense and do can get us to reach a certain culminating point as human beings. Then, what seems most desirable to me now is mediation- finding a balance between believing in the goodness of the universe and acknowledging the end.

 

A quote from a film that shares my observation on the way to live life:

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“And in the end I think I’ve learned the final lesson from my travels in time; and I’ve even gone one step further than my father did: The truth is I now don’t travel back at all, not even for the day, I just try to live every day as if I’ve deliberately come back to this one day, to enjoy it, as if it was the full final day of my extraordinary, ordinary life. We’re all traveling through time together, every day of our lives. All we can do is do our best to relish this remarkable ride.”

From About Time (2013) by Richard Curtis, starring Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams.

 

 

An ending note to self: I’m amazed to be concluding “Exchange Student Diaries” with a personal observation that makes a connection with a film. This post binds everything I’ve posted so far in this blog, and I feel like the two things I care very deeply about are being brought together in a peculiar and hopeful manner. I feel a strange sense of balance and satisfaction in my life at the moment, and I feel that I can get a good night’s sleep tonight (Yes, I’m ending this post with all these feels).

A Fleeting Thought on Film & Love

For these past few months, I’ve been imagining myself creating a film. I know nothing of it- what it would entail, where I would begin, whether I would write or film it. Taking classes have taught me how to watch a film, but I believe making one is a different story. Amongst the uncertainty, however, there is one thing I know with some clarity: that my films would be about love.

It’s so strange to me that I have this sensitivity towards love. For one thing, I have so much doubt about love in general. I think that so much has to come together harmoniously for there to be love, and it seems rarely the case that love is equal and fair. Can love be so core to humanity when it relies on chance? What if love is just a naïve idea to beautify a point of intersection between interests? In my heart, I feel there is so much importance in love, but I would face moments of rationality when questioning its being and my faith in love would waver. Another thing is that I haven’t really experienced true love in my life yet. I’ve had feelings of adoration that were deep enough to the extent that I would think I can feel physical pain from them, but they never really lasted to have any significance. It’s a little embarrassing but my left palm ached as if I genuinely cared for Jacob who failed at love in the second book of the Twilight series. So I’m yet to know what love is, but strangely, I still feel its importance.

I’m writing about love at this particular moment in my life, because I feel that my thoughts on love are evolving these days. At the end of last year, I felt loved. It had been long since I did, so my reactions to it were apparent and I could easily reflect on them. To tell the story in short, I was scared when he loved me. Then he left and I felt regret at shying away, because I couldn’t get my mind off of that warmth he made me feel with his tenderness. Friends would say that it wasn’t real love and that it was just a fling. Maybe it was just a momentary surge of emotions that got us to like each other, and this thought once made me lose hope in honest love. But then again, nothing is ever transparent when it comes to people. Now I don’t think that his thoughts and intentions matter. What matters is that I felt something from and to a person and acted in response. What matters now is how I take this experience with me in the present time.

I hate to admit, for I don’t want to think of myself as relying on others to define my own, but being loved boosted my self-esteem. It made me randomly happier and more comfortable with the way that I am both inside and outside. My philosophy on life is that all humans ultimately strive for happiness, and it looks to me now like love would bring me closer to that ultimate goal of human existence. Then I can say that the importance I place on love isn’t totally groundless.

There’s still so much I need to think about regarding love. I can’t completely trust the thoughts I have now, because my reflections are based on a fraction of what I think love is. I’ve been loved but haven’t returned that love to actually be in a lasting relationship with constant interaction, a more developed form of love, so to say. For now, I will live life with a newfound understanding of love and high anticipation for the next idea that life will enlighten me with.

 

My favorite dialogue about sincere love that has died away but remains in the hearts through its lasting influence:

– But I feel an infinite tenderness for you. I always will. My whole life.

– I’m sorry. You know me. Sometimes I cry for no reason.

From Blue is the Warmest Color (2013) by Abdellatif Kechiche, starring Adele Exarchopoulos and Lea Seydoux.

Films about love, especially those that portray its reality, have the greatest impact on me. Films like Blue is the Warmest Color inspire me.

 

Everything Counts

I enjoy movies on many levels. I love admiring the different characters, the lines, the action, the camera work, the editing, the graphics, the music and everything else. My heart never stops to skip a beat even when I go to the same theater every time, blissfully sniffing the scent of caramelized popcorn, and get settled in one of the seats that my body has grown so familiar to. I enjoy the whole experience of going to the movies. But this is not something I can afford to have for myself all the time due to constraints in time and money that it requires. So I usually watch movies in my room by myself and, although it’s a little embarrassing to admit, I like to be completely immersed in the story, let myself go and cry whilst. The truth is, I always thought this was a cheap compromise I was making. It’s been 300-something days since I first started blogging about my life, but mostly about the movies that inspire me, and now that I think about it, my thoughts about this hobby has changed.

Here is the blog I had before this: https://plain.is/lumiere

(The film documentation section: https://plain.is/lumiere/h/영화)

I was listening to “The Blower’s Daughter,” an original soundtrack from the film Closer by Damien Rice when I remembered blogging about the film. So I went back to look for my blog that I have long abandoned and went through the posts I have made about different films I watched on my own. It was my first blog ever and I didn’t know what and how to document, so I began with blogging quotes I liked from the films. Then I remember feeling so emotional about a film at one point that I had to change the format of my blogging. So I started to write down my thoughts, and my blog posts became longer with time. I quit writing on that blog when I first conceived the thought that the blog cannot keep up with my desire to be more elaborate in discussing films. Then I started this one. I haven’t made too many posts on this, and I feel it has something to do with the pressure I put upon myself to write in a more polished style.

But what I have learned after going through the posts I’ve made on the precedent blog is that no matter how unorderly they may seem, they still have their values in asking the important questions about life. And this feeling of getting myself to be able to think about what really matters, the essence of life, and feeling as if I could be a better human came back to me. This was the motivation that kept me passionate about reading film, which I must have lost in the petty distractions of life. I want to tell myself that everything counts, that whatever thought I have from watching a film is worthwhile to document, so don’t hesitate to write.

 

 

The followings are my thoughts on love, a recurrent theme in many of my film analysis, from the old blog.

It all began with this:

June 2, 2015- Kill Your Darlings (2013)

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“Find where love hides, give, share, lose, lest we die unbloomed.”

https://plain.is/lumiere/136656

 

I questioned if love was even real:

August 6, 2015- Closer (2004)
The concept of becoming “closer” is an illusion and love is an impulse. Dan realizes he loves Alice and cannot help but demand the truth, only to become a stranger who never even knew her name. Anna is never satisfied with the love she has and drives herself to depression out of lust for another man. True love is irrelevant to the three. The film leaves Alice as a mystery, but I would say that, all along, she was the one who knew the truth about love.

“It’s a lie. It’s a bunch of sad strangers photographed beautifully, and… all the glittering assholes who appreciate art say it’s beautiful ’cause that’s what they wanna see. But the people in the photos are sad, and alone… But the pictures make the world seem beautiful, so… the exhibition is reassuring which makes it a lie, and everyone loves a big fat lie.”

https://plain.is/lumiere/227430, https://plain.is/lumiere/227432

 

I thought about the idea of there being no life without love:

August 14, 2015- Shame (2011)


A rather realistic depiction of a destroyed life; he feels no true human connection and sex isolates him further. His sister shares his pain, but unlike him she desires life which is evident in her self-harm and attempts at suicide. His sorrowful, emotionless face in the final scene leaves the audience questioning whether he can break free from his painful cycle.

https://plain.is/lumiere/249778

 

Love came across to me as a value to hold on to for the entirety of humanity:

September 5, 2015- Never Let Me Go (2010)


“What I’m not sure about is if our lives have been so different from the lives of the people we save. We all complete. Maybe none of us really understand what we’ve lived through, or feel we’ve had enough time.” It’s easy to think that medical science will develop to a stage where moral ethics is put into question. Films are constantly being made with such theme in mind (ex. The Island (2005)), but I could never decide how I should feel about it. With this one, however, I finally had some idea; an absolute remedy to death is not so easy to approach. The beings modeled on humans will have emotions, intelligence, relationships and life of their own like any other human. Likewise, humans will die someday, whether they are ready or not, whether they like it or not, just like them. In this sense, I think death is inevitable and the best anyone can do is love.

https://plain.is/lumiere/293168

 

It became so important for me that there is love in life:

September 5, 2015- Being John Malkovich (1999)

Is it worth living when you lose your love and passion for self-achievement, as you age with nothing left but a numb desire to live?

https://plain.is/lumiere/293262

 

 

I dedicate this post to my old blog and to my old self.

Never stop searching for meanings. Never stop writing.

– This has been words of encouragement at a sleepless night of editing resumes 🙂 내 인생 화이팅

Eden (2012): Reality or Aesthetics?

*I recommed whoever comes across this post to watch the movie first! There are spoilers! More importantly, it might not make sense!

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What is the purpose of a film?

Human trafficking is a serious problem and there is much power in films that deal with such issues. The topic itself speaks to the audience and gets them to think about crimes committed in our world that are often left unnoticed. The audience might leave the theater thinking that a film was great simply because it made them think about something different for once. But then it would mean that it wasn’t the film that stimulated their thoughts, but the topic it used convey something as a film. To be honest, I wasn’t too moved by this film, and now that I think about it, I think it was because I wasn’t sure what the intention behind this film was.

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The natural expectation with films that revolve around such sensitive issues is that they will shock the audience with a sense of reality. Almost as if to fit this expectation, Eden is based on a true story, and it seems like this was actually an aspect that the producers used to appeal to the public when it was first released. As all true stories are, there is not much drama (in comparison to some other films about human trafficking). The producers might have thought that simplicity would enhance the realness of the film, but by doing so, they sacrificed the effect of moving the audience. It is not just the lack of nudity or violence in the portrayal of events that makes the movie come across to me as blend, but it is the lack of emotion and story behind the characters that contribute to the sense of distance I felt after watching.

There is no question about Jamie Chung’s acting. She makes her character believable. She is great. But the emotions and the change of character I saw from the protagonist she plays were not detailed enough to understand. The audience are not provided enough background of her (the only look into her past is from her dialogues with her parents that do not say much thanks to awkward Korean dialogues and poor acting by the parents) to understand what she was like before the incident, her loss of innocence is depicted with a lacking sensitivity, and the decisions she makes are strangely timed (there were several moments when I thought she could have done that then if she was going to do it now). I couldn’t connect with her to experience the incident in her shoes as the film should have made me do if it were intending on giving the audience an effect that goes beyond the theater to thoughts on real life.

Apart from the main character, Eden’s friend in captivity made me tilt my head a little in the scene where she cries and wishes to stay in captivity after pregnancy. How becoming a mother would have changed her character is understandable when one really thinks and makes assumptions about it; but not only is this issue another heavy one that shouldn’t be lightly covered in one or two scenes, but the assumptions I had to make seemed to be a bit too much work for those on the side of the audience. The man who is in charge of Eden and the other captives also must have had a story to tell, as he has a background of serving the army and seems unsettled under the orders of the chief. But none of these emotions are looked into during the film. There was a chance for this though. In the scene before his death when he says to Eden, “There’s only you and me. I want you to know that,” I was excited to see some true emotion from him! But no. He dies right after. Again, this scene made me question Eden’s character, because this made her seem in total loss of compassion or any other human emotion with only a desire to escape.

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If the film was not meant to strike the audience with reality, then was its purpose aesthetics? There were certainly scenes that made this film artistic, like the close-up of Eden’s ankle when she cuts herself lose. But then I have to ask, was it suitable for a film about human trafficking to present to the audience the beauty that exists regardless of its tragedy?

Directed by Megan Griffiths. Starring Jamie Chung.

 

A film about human trafficking that leaves a stronger impact: Blind Mountain (2007)

Comet (2014): Balance, Time & Love

*I recommed whoever comes across this post to watch the movie first! There are spoilers! More importantly, it might not make sense!

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She lives in the “now”, while he lives everywhere but the “now”.

Although different in how they hold on to the concept of time, Kim (Emmy Rossum) and Dell (Justin Long) are both very aware of it. They always take things beyond to identify them in time. This influences them to think badly of time itself, namely that it makes everything finite. Kim wants love to be painted like a picture. This reveals her tendency to be less mindful of anything else, but the chances she takes and emotions she follow in the moment. Dell worries about the negative possibilities of the “five minutes from now.” But this only makes him very self-conscious and regretful of what he misses out on. This can be implied in his repeated “joke” about saying, “Where’s my fucking money?” Time is money, so here, he is essentially crying out loud for the time he lost.

Kim and Dell were in love but just seeing it differently. Dell says the most fearful result of love would be to change each other. But they both change from love. Kim starts to see beyond the “now” as she thanks Dell for their past and makes her final decision out of concern for the future (of course, with love for Jack in the present as well). In the very last scene, Dell takes one whole minute to be in the “now” before going to kiss her, regardless of his regretful past or her future without him.

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Although the overall image of this film may quite strongly be occupied with the bluish image of the scenes, the dream-like music and strangely charming dialogues, everything ties itself to one another to create one coherent (and indeed, very artistic) story about love. It is about a progress of balancing that comes to a point of stability only after its time has come to an end.

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Directed by Sam Esmail. Starring Justin Long and Emmy Rossum.

 

Also a realistic depiction of love and relationships: Blue Valentine (2010)

With a similar cinematic style: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)