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Notes from Underground


1. Journal d’un curé de campagne : “Et toi, tu nas pas le sens pratique.” (24:48) / “Très pratique.” (38:55) // Oppenheimer : “Pragmatic.” (40 / 43)


2. Journal : “I stood up with the feeling, the certainty, that I had heard someone calling me . . . [at window he peers out] . . . yet I knew I wouldn’t find anyone.” (34:40) // “Who’s that? Who’s following me? Is that you?” // cf. phantom phone call—the call from afar to afar—in Crimes and Misdemeanours (1:00:24)


3. Harmonic. Journal : “my poor head” (1:21:00) & Eraserhead (1:07:25) // Also : brick-wall window in Eraserhead’s room (36:55)


4. Journal : “Whatever happens, don’t see the daughter again. She’s a demon!” (1:13:00) // cf. Fassbinder, Chinesisches Roulette


5. Multicharacter. Journal : black coat with collar up gives Protagonist a secular (almost gangster?) look (1:15:30) // Then a black scarf conceals his clerical collar (1:19:10)


6. Journal : “I want everything, I’ll try everything. . . . If life disappoints me, so be it.” (1:30:48) // Oppenheimer : “I won’t live my life afraid to make a mistake.” (29)


7. Journal : striped pillow (reminiscent of iron bars of Shot 2) under head of sickly Protagonist (1:48:50) = Oppenheimer : striped pillow under head of troubled Protagonist (4; in trailer)


8. This scene in Journal is a spree of “prison bars” imagery : shadow of balusters, wood slat box, chair slats , iron bedstead, mattress ticking; etc. Please recall the short commentary on horizontals + verticals in EWS, and the telephoto tremendum at the iron gates. . . .






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Bergman, Winter Light (1963)  


“Give my life meaning, and I’ll be your obedient slave.” (33:36)


0. Bresson / Bergman / Nolan : Winter Light is closely accordant with Journal d’un curé de campagne, as is Oppenheimer with the two of them—A person of spirit struggling to maintain the light of faith in a dark catastrophe of a world.


1. Journal : “After his death.” “How did he die?” (1:35:58–1:36:03) During this dialogue exchange, suddenly we hear what sounds like a bell : the call from afar to afar : here, an ominous sound. Most generally, the bell sound might suggest the calling of persons either into the church, or homeward. The sickly Protagonist is being called home—to his own death. // The “bell sound” seems generated by an artisan hammering raw material : the church sound has reduced to a secular sound.


The symbolic sound recalls Oliver Stone’s Wall Street (1987)—the noise of jackhammers while the Protagonist readies to face Gekko for the first time, hoping to break through. (14:03–14:11)


Winter Light : opening credits are underscored by bell sounds.


Oppenheimer : sound of stamping feet—call from afar to afar. (1, 89,  107, 109, 139, 149, 187–190, 197)


2. Journal : “Our hidden faults poison the air others breathe.” (46:53) // Winter Light : “Hello, you tubercular old wheezer. Don’t pass your flu on to me.” (1:17:42) // “The damnable habit of consorting with losers was that they passed their subtle problems on.” Norman Mailer, Armies of the Night (1968), ch.2.


3. Journal : . . . saying, “Take and eat.” (10:19) // Winter Light : . . . saying, “Take and eat.” (opening words, 1:37) // Oppenheimer : Eat. (15 / 165)


4. 13:35—“Can’t Reverend Broms take the service at Frostnäs?” “No, he’s taking the new car out for a spin.” // Modernity amid archaic recalls Protagonist riding motorcycle in Journal : 1:33:20–1:34:40. // Oppenheimer : western motif—archaic amid modernity.


5. 16:52–18:10—“Jonas is at his wit’s end. . . . It’s only a matter of time before China has atom bombs. . . . ” // 29:12—“Do you recall what bad shape I was in? My hands. . . . The skin had flaked off, and my palms were like open sores.” Like wounds from an atomic blast?


6. 22:00 / 1:15:12—“God’s silence.” // Oppenheimer : “SILENT LIGHT” (132)—“a terrible revelation of divine power” (117)


31:40—“To me, your faith seems obscure and neurotic.” // 39:56— “An ignorant, spoiled and anxious wretch makes a rotten clergyman.” // Oppenheimer : “Unstable, theatrical, egotistical, neurotic.” (50)


31:40, etc.—Speaking monologue into lens, as if addressing (confronting, accusing, mocking) storyteller and audience. // Oppenheimer : opening eyes and staring into lens in his second shot of film.


7. Winter Light : Pastor alone with window in frame. some examples :


1:02—Shot 1 engineers symmetry between Pastor’s eyeglasses and a pair of luminous lunette windows flanking his face. // (“Eyes . . . you know, the window to the soul?” Burn After Reading, 16:06) // While Pastor speaks, his abstracted eyes are averted, recalling a piece of churchly advice in Journal : “If you can’t pray, just repeat the words!” (1:09:45)


3:58—Pastor stands before altar with triptych covering most of large arched window and blocking out God’s light. // Oppenheimer : the covered-over window before character Oppenheimer during “Chevalier incident”. (65)


8:25—Pastor puts on eyeglasses (“Let us pray”), and is framed with church windows prominent around his face.


15:25–15:38—Pastor, troubled, shuts his eyes to God’s light in the window. // Oppenheimer : A troubled Oppenheimer, back to windows, shuts his eyes. (109, in trailer;—one example)


18:51—Pastor says “God seems so very remote” while his black-robed body blocks almost all light from window behind him.


19:06—“Life must go on,” says Pastor in CU, surrounded by bare walls in Dutch angle. No window, only shadow and claustrophobia, and deep black by the crown of his head.


8. 38:53—“The sort of ideas you have when you’re young. . . . I was as innocent as a baby. . . . I knew nothing of evil or cruelty.” // Oppenheimer : “You can lift the rock without being ready for the snake that’s revealed.” (102)


39:08—“I was a seaman’s pastor in Lisbon during the Spanish Civil War.”


58:00—“How can you be so blind?” // Oppenheimer : “How could this man who saw so much be so blind?” (46)


9. 19:10—The triple tone. Parishioner : “Why do we have to go on living?” “Yeah . . .” “The pastor’s not feeling well. I shouldn’t be bothering you with this. . . . Besides, we’re powerless to do anything.” The tables are turned : the Parishioner is the authority in the scene. This perverse switch continues at 36:33–42:40. In this latter scene, the Parishioner is initially positioned before the church window. The Pastor’s subsequent “confession” to the Parishioner leads directly to the Parishioner’s suicide. (46:05)


18:52—The triple tone. Pastor : “God seems so very remote.” A parishioner : “That’s right.” Pastor reacts with inward disturbed look.


10. 1:14:00—“That must have been painful . . . to realize that no one understands . . . to be abandoned when you need someone to rely on. That must be excruciatingly painful.” // Oppenheimer : “Don’t alienate the only people in the world who understand what you do. One day you might need them.” (41)






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


Commentary above has identified a familial connection between Bresson, Journal d’un curé de campagne; Bergman, Winter Light; Scorsese’s Last Temptation of Christ; and Oppenheimer. These share concordant thematic elements.


What does a Good Reader make of this Situation with respect to Oppenheimer?


A first-rate storyteller offers hints to the Spectator—one might call them “Thematic Easter Eggs”—as to how the narrative might be received.


When Oppenheimer reminds us of Journal d’un curé de campagne, our perspective of Oppenheimer expands; our understanding of what we thought we saw is suddenly beyond us.


Revelation of familial connection is no passing thought, such as “I like the colour blue in that shot.” The Revelation of those films in Oppenheimer conditions the reception of the narrative utterly and completely. “Wow, this narrative is more than I expected or thought.” This is the onset of the Revelation. “What if I think in the way the narrative is pointing me to? Bresson, Bergman? What’s going on?”


Scroob has a life example. Initially, Scrooby persisted in thinking of Oppenheimer through a Kubrick lens. Then Scroob recognized the North by Northwest reference in the Blackett-Bohr-Oppenheimer scene, and Scroob exclaimed, “Ah! This is a Hitchcock movie!” Storyteller Nolan offers a hint into how the narrative might be received, which aids understanding of the Situation.


Hitchcock, yes. But Oppenheimer has many other close family members, such as the Bresson and the Bergman. Recognizing their influence on and presence in Oppenheimer leads to thinking on the Indirect and Unstated Theme of Faith in Oppenheimer.


Scroob is confident that a preponderance of the film’s audience didn’t leave the cinema auditorium marvelling that they had just experienced a responsible, dignified, sensitive, exploratory narrative about Faith.


Eugene O’Neill remarked that a story that does not explore a person’s relationship to spirituality is not worth a damn. O’Neill would have thought highly of Oppenheimer.


Oppenheimer’s exploration of the Spiritual is not immediately apparent—though the Unconcious and the Intuition will be taking it in—so it is necessary for this engineered narrative process to be expressed in print, in order to hopefully encourage the next Revelation.


First-rate art radiates Light that changes a person’s DNA for the better, and eyes and thought sharpen accordingly.


But a Spectator has to be open to receive this Light. To receive the Light requires understanding and experience.


A work of art such as Oppenheimer can be far more than what it is to audiences—though it’s already spectacularly, unspeakably enough—if audiences approach the artwork from a different perspective from the get-go. A Spectator dials up the light a first-rate artwork produces; the brighter the light, the more beneficial the experience. A first-rate artwork producing at a bright level is the best therapy for the mind available to the living.


Because first-rate Art explores Truth—responsibly.


First-rate narrative art like Oppenheimer is required for health. (Also required are people to think about it in print—responsibly.)


For a moment, let’s think about thinking about an artwork.


Understanding a first-rate artwork is a process that involves a number of steps.


Hypothetical example :


1. Scroob wonders, “Are there as many windows behind the character Oppenheimer as there are behind the Protagonist in Bresson’s Journal?”

2. A Good Reader watches the Bresson and notices the windows one after another to the extent that the windows possibly become intrustive and distracting.

3. That experience is simply part of the process of understanding first-rate art, which involves eternal recurrence.

4. The next time the Good Reader syncs with the Bresson, the windows will be understood as they are but without projecting in an instrusive or distracting way. Metaphor : Consider a mathematical equation. The last time Journal was seen, some of the equation was marked on a blackboard. Now, with a subsequent viewing, the Spectator, already understanding the existing mathematical equation, has a brain freed up to discover yet more pertinent information, to add to the ongoing equation.

5. And so it goes.

6. Sometimes one encounters a narrative in which the experience is so “multi” at once—like the filled-up blackboard from Oppenheimer’s chalk (32)—that it can hardly be believed. This is what first-rate artists can deliver, and this is what awaits the Good Reader who Understands.




Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


VOICE (O.S.) : Dr Oppenheimer, as we begin, I believe you have a statement to read into the record?


Trinity of Past - Present - Future.


1. “as we begin”—the present of the “reel time” Situation. // The line is self-referential, equivalent, for example, to Oedipus’ first words : “O children”—and, as here, the speaker is implicating the audience.


2. “you have a statement”—the document is a chronicle of the past.


3. “the record”—the authority into which the statement will be absorbed.

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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


spiritual elements in screenplay-words : “troubled by visions” (4) “Christ, Oppenheimer” (4) “FLYING OVER the MEDIEVAL SPIRES of Göttingen” (11) “Good God.” (25) “And now I am become Death” (28) “It’ll need a school, stores, a church . . .” (53) “‘Batter my heart, three-person’d god.’ . . . Trinity.” (113–114) “. . . the atomic bomb will be a terrible revelation of divine power.” (117) “The truly vindictive are as patient as saints.” (154) “You need to stop playing the martyr.” (183) “Then tell them to go to hell.” (184) “. . . he needed absolution. He needed to be a martyr. To suffer, and take the sins of the world on his shoulders.” (188) “J. Robert Oppenheimer—the martyr.” (192)



thematic editing.


“A bomb.” transitions to : “I told you, Robert, no more flowers.” (33)


Indeed. An atomic blast eradicates all Nature in its path.



(perverse) humour in the repetition.


Oppenheimer : When we detonate an atomic device, we might start a chain reaction that destroys the world. . . . (62)

Einstein : Then you stop. And share your findings with the Nazis, so neither side destroys the world. (64)





“It’ll break before dawn. The air cools overnight. Just before dawn, the storm dies.” (28)

This is personal homespun wisdom, and the character Oppenheimer will apply it on the most crucial night of his life :

“It’ll break before dawn. . . . I know this desert. The air cools overnight. Just before dawn, the storm breaks.” (125)

This intensely personal element recalls another element in the same sequence :

“A month of my salary against ten bucks says it lights.” (124)

This appeal to honour and trust recalls the humanism of Dunkirk.





to Oppenheimer : “We’re not judges . . .” (1)

to Strauss : “This is not a court.” (67)


Lawrence : “you’re not just self-important, you’re actually important.” (43)

Strauss : “He wanted the glorious insincere guilt of the self-important to wear like a crown.” (190)

Senate Aide : “Is it possible they spoke about something . . . more important?” (195)



“You drop a bomb and it falls on the just and the unjust. I don’t wish the culmination of three centuries of physics to be a weapon of mass destruction.” “Izzy, I don’t know if we can be trusted with such a weapon, but I know the Nazis can’t. We have no choice.” (59) // cf. the ancient Greek go-to story Situation of choice-between-two-negatives. // cf. Matthew 10:34.

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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


The screenplay to Oppenheimer is a colossally strong piece of storytelling. The narrative’s structural foundation from page one to last is an intricate first-rate story. There is no meandering, no throwaway lines. In its tight integration this narrative—like all first-rate stories—is akin to an interstellar rocket engine. These remarks can be augmented at length, but not here and now.


Adding to the wonder : Storyteller Nolan added an entire layer to the script when he brought it to visual life—the question of Faith, what will be called just here “the Spiritual Theme”.


The Spiritual Theme in Oppenheimer is latent in the script as a deep, integrated element of the fundamental structure. It is subtle on the pages and it remains subtle on film. Screenwriter Nolan shows us the Spiritual, not tells us about it. In the script there is no mention of Bresson or Bergman, though they both loom large in the film; no mention of a relentless thematic use of windows and blackboards; no pointed mention of the aura of meekness of the character Oppenheimer of Hour 3. Storyteller Nolan and Cillian Murphy brought to life what exists in the script as elements “encoded” in the structure. The Spiritual Theme is akin to a DNA of the script; and the script’s visual realization allows us to see its DNA.


The snippets of dialogue noted in the above post—Thematic Easter Eggs—nudge the audience to notice the Indirect and Unstated theme of Faith that storyteller Nolan communicates “from the page” yet “beyond the page” (so to speak). The first time the audience sees the film, the Indirect and Unstated are absorbed by the Unconscious and Intuition. But the next time the audience watches the film, who knows what Revelations might eventuate in the intensively calculating eyes of the Spectator?

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Bresson, A Man Escaped (1956)


The camera lens is claustrophobia and questioning.


Claustrophobia : Protagonist’s first words : “I could feel I was being watched. I dare not move.” (5:43)


Questioning : CU of bleak prison wall under opening credits. // cf. Natural Born Killers : “There is a crack in everything; That’s how the light gets in.” // The cracks are a way out of tyranny and servitude—if one asks the right questions.




Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


“[Nolan] is a massive filmmaker . . . and this is not a criticism. It’s a comment,” [Spike Lee] said. “If [Oppenheimer] is three hours, I would like to add some more minutes about what happened to the Japanese people. People got vaporized.”


What Nolan does in Oppenheimer is precisely what Spielberg did—or rather, didn’t do—in Schindler’s List. The cinema artist has a choice to portray megadeath on screen or not. By not showing megadeath, the artist-as-God is one-upping God, who indeed showed us megadeath. The Artist, more subtle than God, and more humane, is humanist enough to suggest megadeath only—and leaves the rest to us.


If you, Spike, had been reading this thread, you’d have remembered that this part of the Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon was considered way back, and was defined as Nolan “doing a Kubrick” on the audience.

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Deliverance (1972) . Director : John Boorman. Cinematographer : Vilmos Zsigmond.


1:26:24–1:27:04. One shot. Wide. A tremendous shard of stone juts up darkly from an island in the river. The spectacle occupies—very prominently—the right half of the Panavision frame. The three characters, meanwhile, are small in the left half.  


The shot exemplifies expertly the benefit of a cinematic storytelling that knows well the sync of Unconscious with narrative.


1:26:23. Two characters perform an impromptu water burial. The vibe, aided by the soundtrack, is solemn.


Cut to 1:26:24–1:27:04. The characters paddle away.


How does the audience react? The duration of the shot is well long enough for an audience to start asking questions. “What is this boulder commanding my attention, and why?” Does the audience ask itself this? No. The audience doesn’t ask questions. The shot works.


The audience doesn’t ask questions because the Unconscious understands.


Just as in a dream, here, too, the Unconscious seeks connections between elements—and finds them.


1:26:24–1:27:04. The Unconscious understands something unspoken that maintains a breathless spell on the audience.

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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


Old timers may remember the film Flashdance (1983), an unanticipated audience favorite which triggered a nationwide wardrobe craze for exercisewear. (Which recalls the Glark Gable T-shirt phenomenon of It Happened One Night (1934).) Flashdance imprinted itself on audiences to such a degree that the habits of everyday people were changed by the film.


That was a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  


Oppenheimer (2023) has grossed over $900 million worldwide but has sparked zero debate about anything constructive. Perversely, Oppenheimer’s storytelling is so magnificent that the film has literally gone in one ear and out the other. (The film works so consummately on the Unconscious and Intuition that no one subsequently cares one iota about its Themes and Content—apparently. At least not enough to embark on public debate.)


Where is the debate about the necessity for, or disarmament of, nuclear weapons, for example? There is none.


Oppenheimer is a colossal event in storytelling history that can steer us in a new direction. But who besides Scrooby has recognized this, and is spreading the word?


That the thoughtful, distinguished, dignified film of Oppenheimer, a first-rate narrative that pushes forward the art of storytelling, has received a subsequent response of “so what?”, even with the blessed windfall of its colossal grosses, demonstrates that our thoughtless society is spiralling down to its ultimate blessed last kaboom.


ILLUSTRATIVE POSTSCRIPT : What is the talking point at this precise moment? The world’s media demands that Oppenheimer show megadeath. The Situation is ludicrous in the extreme. If Variety and the Washington Post, for example, are committed to their own headlines on this point, why don't they print VINTAGE PHOTOS OF MEGADEATH on their front pages? Show us DEATH, Variety. You want to see it, don’t you?

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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


Why first-rate art is required.


The following words from a French philosopher were written in 1983 in the hope that first-rate thinkers (i.e., the philosopher-artist) still existed, in order to continue blazing a pathway—even through the submerged ending of all things—perhaps to find an underground exit to the light.

Herewith are three sentences from Chapter 12 of Luce Irigaray, The Forgetting of Air (London : Athlone Press, 1999), 171.


One who ventures ventures life itself.


Every move we make may be our last. Knowing this is no horror thought, at least not exclusively so; in fact, knowing this sobering thought can serve to contract our inner vision and sharpen our life-intentions and goad us to reach for the win as soon as possible. Knowing of the treacherous foundation we stand on keeps up eternally vigilant. Since every move might be our last, we should start living life to the full ASAP. To do this—to work at the height of one's possible powers—requires the ongoing process of getting ever-smarter 24/7—to relentlessly, endlessly venture out into self-exploration, self-reconstruction, and self-overcoming—because otherwise we can never fix ourselves, satisfy ourselves, and save ourselves. Only self-knowledge can bring us toward these needful life goals.


Surpassing life barely, by a breath : the one that, if preserved, saves through song.


“Barely”—because we live on the edge of death in ignorance of what we are and where we are. Our breath (our communication) is akin to one mere tentative move, like dipping the tip of a toe into water, drawn out for a lifetime. Who is there who uses breath in such a way that those who hear might respond, “The sleeper has awakened”? The rare one : the outlaw, the outsider on no side but exploration of Truth; the outlaw exploring Truth not to persuade anybody of anything—that would be a corrupt powerplay—but to inspire in a person the utterly free and always-available blessing of self-education.


Saving through Art. The tireless close analysis of Art sharpens the mind everlastingly. Master storytellers such as Nolan can lift a person out of the grave of the Inhuman so that a person experiences self-revelation that nurtures one’s own Humanity and allows one to experience a hitherto unimaginable Exaltation 24/7. But a person has to make the curative element of Art happen, or it doesn’t happen, and first-rate narratives and their storytellers will remain tragically misunderstood. The medicine that cures, is, alas, wasted.


One who does not venture into the abyss can only recount and retrace paths that are already cleared and that obliterate the trace of the fugitive gods.


The responsible visionary (the philosopher-artist), by virtue of their outside status, wakes up people and leads them off the beaten path of the corrupt Inhuman and towards an authentic Humanity. This, in theory. People first have to understand that there is indeed a cure for their corruption-from-birth. Good news is that the cure has been staring them in the face their entire lives. It is Art that is the breath of the fugitive gods (i.e., responsible Art is synced to a tradition leading back millennia). But Art is not regularly self-administered in its proper dosage. A proper dose of a first-rate narrative can serve as a cure for a variety of ills, but a person has to first understand its potential therapeutic power and go on from there.


To absorb a work of Art tepidly—and the tepid is a degree of enthusiasm—is to understand (mistakenly) Art as nothing more than a fleeting commercial product in an inhuman marketplace, in which citizens are not flesh and blood, but algorithmic consuming inhumans. Without the saving grace of Art to stop Inhumans cold in their tracks and wake them up to their Situation, the Inhumans we see around us continue to fall from evanescence to evanescence for a lifetime—and “That’s the definition of nothing.”


Oppenheimer (2023) appeared, and, like all art, it is now revealing more about its audiences than about itself : Oppenheimer is confirming our Land of the Lost.





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Storytelling 2024


Scrooby presents two opposing poles of authorial perspective in order to explore the present state-of-the-art of narrative structure.


On one side: American Psycho (1991) by Bret Easton Ellis

On the other side : Finnegans Wake (1939) by James Joyce




American Psycho captures a worldview of its time, a general vibe of the culture around it. The novel’s characters are vacuous, aimless, thoughtless, and lost. So the author had a decision to make before putting pen to paper : How to write a thoughtful story for an imbecilic audience?


Answer? The author presents a structure that the imbecilic audience “deserves”—that is to say, American Psycho has no structure at all.


We’ll find out before the end of this post if the author’s decision was a good one.


By intentionally having “no structure”, the novel American Psycho releases the imbecilic audience from the requirement (i.e., the struggle) of thinking things through. The novel runs like white noise from beginning to end without rising or falling action, and leads to zero resolution. The novel doesn’t even have a ghost of an ending—it just switches off. Bret Easton Ellis seemingly had this remit in mind : How can I violate as many story principles as possible, yet still produce a narrative?


(To be phenomenologically accurate, there is no such thing in our world as any one element having “no structure”. Here, with respect to American Psycho, we may describe the book as having “an extremely loose and utterly aimless structure”.)


Part of the colossal genius of the comic novel American Psycho is that the book not only captures the zeitgeist of its time in the novel, but its very structure itself embodies the same. If, as the author apparently assumes, the world is as vacuous, aimless, and thoughtless as the novel’s characters, why, then, would the author present a book in any other way but (as a simulacrum of) vacuous, aimless, and thoughtless? The author didn’t produce a book for the reading public so much as produce a book that might have been emitted by that public.


American Psycho has no structure because its readers are damned.




The opposing pole to this structureless narrative is Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Here, the author is communicating : I don’t care if you read this novel or not. In fact, you’re not smart enough to read this. I don’t want you reading it. You’re damned. So there.


While Bret Easton Ellis “descends” to the depth of the imbecilic in order to show them themselves in the mirror of art, James Joyce rises up out of the cesspool and waves goodbye to the moronic and lost in order to breathe the fresh air of individual freedom.


Novelist John Updike recalled the mood around Finnegans Wake back in the day : “[T]his book had represented the epitome of culture—fanatically wrought, monolithically aloof.” (Villages, ch. 13)


“Culture”—in the world of American Psycho, there is no culture anymore, hence the “cultureless” structure. The author is communicating : “You’re too idiotic for anything but this, so take it and enjoy it.”


Bret Easton Ellis was aware that the audience is unable or at least unwilling to think. So he gave them what was suitable for them. He gave them the opposite of the “fanatically wrought”. He gave the audience what he thought it deserved. What happened?


American Psycho was a multimillion-copy bestseller.


Who’s the joke on?




Much later, Bret Easton Ellis returned to this theme of the End Times : “The fact is we’re moving into the realm where [Hollywood] directors who have a lot of intelligence are being groomed to make [Iron Man 3, The Amazing Spider Man, The Avengers]. . . . An American movie for adults is just not feasible when China is the second biggest market in the world. . . . This is the reality. It’s a dead end. Maybe it’s not depressing to someone who’s 20 and doesn't give a s***.” (Bullett, Summer MMVIII, 214)




Now : Oppenheimer (2023).


The narrative of Oppenheimer gives the audience the benefit of the doubt. Storyteller Nolan is not consciously regressing like Bret Easton Ellis in American Psycho to make a point about the state of the times. Instead, storyteller Nolan attempts to raise up the audience to a noble height in spite of the times. Therefore, storyteller Nolan, while not remotely attempting an analogue of Finnegans Wake, is yet one step closer to the Joyce novel than to the Ellis novel.


How is the public responding to Oppenheimer? Like the vacuous, aimless, thoughtless, and lost characters from American Psycho. Regardless of its colossal grosses, the film is going in one ear and out the other. Audiences received it as popcorn fare exclusively (“Barbenheimer”), and are either unwilling or unable to recognize the colossal artistry of its technics. Evidence of this? There is zero responsible discourse about the film in the public arena.


Patrick Bateman would love to see the vaporized Japanese!—just like the responsible folks at Variety and the Washington Post.


Scrooby would hope that the cruel, inhuman, and transparently imbecilic attitude of these publications represent only, say, a triumphant 5% percent of the culture. Pipedream.  


Storyteller Nolan has to be punished for giving the audience the benefit of the doubt!




American Psycho was a colossally forward-looking and prophetic novel that captures our lost time of 2023 with chilling and awful accuracy. Its characters (every single one of them) are inhuman and lost and speak gibberish from page one to the last. Yet they’re the successful ones in American life, with multimillion-dollar paychecks and apartments on Fifth Avenue. They’re the putative top 1%.


Back in the day, Bret Easton Ellis was severely punished for his accurate portrayal of the sick culture around him. Though he received a massive advance from his publisher for his efforts, the book almost didn’t appear in print.


As for storyteller Nolan? All its box-office success may not contribute to a completely happy outlook for him when fools’ approval stings. (Macbeth)





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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antiquae imitamina vitae


An artist requires a surplus of rage to continue putting the flawless diamonds on the velvet. The danger in this Situation is that the rage can turn on the artist, just as a dropped water hose twists round and soaks the fireman. When the rage is channelled into art, all is well; everyone benefits. But this same rage, having leapt the channel and roving wild every which way, can wreak havoc. The wreckage, psychically and physically, can be considerable, both in terms of self-destruction and others’ pain. Wild rage invites chaos. Channelled rage creates art.


Growing older occasions a mellowing of rage. But with the mellowing comes vitiation of the art. The artist divested of rage is only going through the motions, as in Ovid’s underworld : “devoting themselves to some work practice in imitation of their former life [antiquae imitamina vitae]”. (Metamorphoses, 4.432–45.)


Mellowing of rage is a prominent reason why virtually no artist in history created their best work near the end. Glancing backward, the only narrative artists, it seems, who were consistently able to create their best works near the end were orchestral composers in the great tradition. They will always be the lucky ones.


Otherwise :


Nuclear rage is what it takes to succeed. Take it or leave it.

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Writing a Scene : How Much in How Little?


A trip down memory lane takes us to academia’s centuries-long mistaken understanding of Oedipus the play as a solemn Situation from start to finish, punctuated now and then with “dramatic irony”. If, for example, an entire scene of dialogue in Oedipus (85–146) may be confidently defined as one elaborate experience of “dramatic irony”, when, then, may the entire narrative finally be defined as funny, perversely so?


We face this same Situation with Shakespeare’s Macbeth. To approach the play as a solemn Situation from start to finish is imbecilic. Example : Act 1, Scene 2. The King requests up-to-date news of the battlefront, and a wounded Sergeant conveys the tale. What follows at the forefront of things is Shakespeare playing on the concept of “always bad news first.” (Stephen King’s Christine (1983), ch. 36). What we ultimately experience is a masterclass in an author engineering colossal density in a wondrously efficient manner.


Shakespeare packs a whole lot of thematic material into one short scene of 76 lines!—which, btw, is an uncharacteristically short Exposition for Shakespeare. As a cherry on top, we can subtitle this post : The Triple Tone in Macbeth.


Imagine someone initiating a telephone call with : “Well, friend, everything’s not so fine. You’ll have to hear me out. . . . Wait, as it happens, everything is fine, wonderful, marvellous!” Then: “Uh, no, there is one potentially catastrophic thing I have to tell you . . .”


What a rollercoaster ride of emotion for the person hanging on every word. Funny?


Act 1, Scene 2, like all else in the play, is too vast to reduce into a post. Let us press on regardless. Scroob’s intention here is to demonstrate how much thematic material can be packed into one short scene. Examples :


(1) The Sergeant’s tale draws the listener in and along. This phenomenon associates King with Audience—both occupy the same standpoint in the instance. The King is listening to the tale just as the audience is, and reacting, just as the audience might be, to its twists and turns. Here the King is a surrogate for the audience. The audience (its Unconscious) may find this correspondence appealing : the King is the authority. Yet very soon the King reveals himself as weak, and is murdered. So where does that leave the audience? Thereafter the audience drifts along untethered, similar to Hour 2 of Hitchcock’s Psycho. For the rest of the play the audience follows the character of Macbeth in the same abstract way audiences followed Travis Bickle. Funny? Perversely so?


(2) Right from the start Shakespeare displays why an audience should pay to see his play : the expert technics. Shakespeare’s sense of verbal pace is superior. The opening of Macbeth conveys to the audience : You’re not going to hear the English language presented with such finesse anywhere else, my friends! This is one reason why you should be watching this play, rather than doing anything else! (In the Internet age, in which information is transacted in a multiplicity of ways, what is unique about the way Hollywood cinema conveys its information?)


(3) The wounded Sergeant rising to the occasion while addressing the King, so that the effort of telling his tale very possibly hastens on the mortal gravity of his bleeding wounds—funny?


(4) The King being led by the rhetorical nose by no more than a rank-and-file “bloody man” at a most consequential moment in the King’s life. To top it off, the King is blindsided by the man’s moments of bad news. Funny?


(5) The Sergeant soars the heights of exalted bloody rhetoric and gets carried away with himself. Rather than spilling his news quickly, he draws it out in a sonic exhilaration that reaches a climax with the word “Golgotha”. The death suggested just here may end up being the Sergeant’s. (“Famous Last Words.”) Funny?


(6) Marvellous is the efficient manner in which Shakespeare presents the character of the King’s son Malcolm. The Sergeant, Malcolm reports, “fought ’Gainst my captivity”. Meaning, Malcolm is introduced to the audience in a weakened position—this superior nobleman required the assistance of an unnamed Sergeant of the rank and file to save his Royal life. The entire foundation of Malcolm’s character is encoded in his first line!  


(7) The King’s first words, “What bloody man is that?” sets the grim tone for the entire blood-soaked play to come. (Note that the King doesn’t say “bloody soldier” or “bloody sergeant” or any other specificity. Personality in Macbeth is drained down to, let us say, nihilist essences.)


(8) An eerie coincidence between the King and the Three Witches? At scene’s end the King pronounces a character’s death with powerful stability and confidence, speaking with the stern unbreakable immediacy of Fate. (“No more that Thane of Cawdor shall deceive/Our bosom interest. Go pronounce his present death,/And with his former title greet Macbeth.”) The King, however, is only playing at confidence, because he, too, will soon be wiped out, and without warning, and without much ado. The King, though he evokes in his stature the power and vastitude of Fate, is only a mere small weak human. First to go, last to know. The answer to the question “What bloody man is that?” will soon have another specific answer : the King! Is any of this remotely funny?


(9) Note, for example, the frequency of the letter “t” in the opening lines, and the sonic effect it conveys of strength :


What bloody man is that? He can report,

As seemeth by his plight, of the revolt

The newest state.


                                This is the sergeant

Who like a good and hardy soldier fought

’Gainst my captivity. Hail, brave friend!

Say to the king the knowledge of the broil

As thou didst leave it.


Note how the strong “t” finally finds itself enmeshed into a tale of weakness. So the last “t” of the speech has an undercutting cringeworthy vibe to it. Doesn’t it?


(10) “friend”—Oh really? The Sergeant has no chance of his wounds being dressed until his story is told. His words are worth more than his life. Funny? (Scheherazade) (Misery) ("Meal Ticket" in The Ballad of Buster Scruggs) (And let’s not forget that Shakespeare owned a percentage of his own theatre. If his own words failed him, he might have gone broke. So one might say that Shakespeare’s own life hung on his words. This self-referential humour is, yes, Sophoclean in the extreme.)


(11) The Sergeant is asked to inform the King of the military campaign, and the Sergeant’s first words are hardly reassuring—“Doubtful it stood”. May we describe this as a not very sensitive utterance to the ear of Absolute Power? (Recall how in Antigone a messenger has to beg for his life simply because he delivers bad news to the King [223–331].)


(12) A rhetorical exhibition takes place in this scene. Ross arrives, and his words on the subject under discussion are sharper, denser, and more efficient in presentation than the bleeding Sergeant’s. This Situation of duelling monologues nudges the audience to pay closest attention to the sound of the play—all the way up to the end of act five—because the language of this one Shakespeare play is integrated together like none other with his name. In Macbeth we marvel at a continuous poetic integration generating awesomely wondrous sonic and thematic effects.


 (13) The bad-luck number. The Macbeth number. Let’s move on.


(14) The play begins with “When shall we three meet again?” Do we recall “the place where three ways meet” in Oedipus? The first shot of three hills in TWBB? Narrative – audience – character. The trinity. Me, Myself, and I. Where everything happens. Fate. // “When shall we three meet again?” The Magic Circle. In my beginning is my end. In the mystical, bewildering world of Macbeth, the play begins with what otherwise might be the narrative’s final line!





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Introduction to a so-called “history play”: Shakespeare (and whoever else), The First Part of Henry the Sixth


1. The play begins with a funeral. It is the death of Henry V, the passing of an old order, the death of a glorious old way. “Virtue he had, deserving to command.” (9) The occasion of the funeral is the Present mourning its decline into present weakness.


Scene 1.1 in its broadest sense : At the funeral for Henry V, the mourners, not all of whom are getting along, receive news that France’s army is beating the hell out of England’s army, and the mourners immediately distribute to their several destinations.


2. The solemn mood abruptly degenerates into chaos : “The Church? Where is it? Had not churchmen prayed,/His thread of life had not so soon decayed.” (33) And so on from there.


The sheer shift in mood right at the outset recalls the opening of Sophocles’ Antigone. It also recalls Oppenheimer, p. 31 : Right at the start of the scene, when a scene-defining mood has already been generated, the character Oppenheimer and Jean Tatlock witness Alvarez and the Barber, and the mood abruptly shifts. // As in Henry the Sixth (e.g., “France is revolted from the English!”, 90), so here in Oppenheimer : “They split the uranium nucleus!” In both narratives, colossally consequential news is prefaced with a quiet, short, interpersonal vignette (contrast).


3. “We mourn in black; why mourn we not in blood?” (17) “None do you like but an effeminate prince.” (35) // These characters are arguing for Force-for-Change. // Oppenheimer : “Theory will take you only so far.” (18, 32, 64, 127)


4. Lines 69–81 : A messenger arrives. His message is a condensation of a complex historical Situation presented in a short span of easily explicable lines. Because this play is not a history lesson. The history we hear of in The First Part of Henry the Sixth is a foundation to allow the play’s characters to act in Situations relatable to contemporary audiences—who have paid to experience “entertainment”.


What happened? The First Part of Henry the Sixth broke box-office records at the time. (Wells and Taylor, Complete Works (Oxford : Clarendon, 1991), 153. Theory : The First Part of Henry the Sixth didn’t break box-office records because its contemporary audiences were riveted by a lesson in a history over one hundred years old. Instead, audiences were riveted by human beings acting in dramatic human situations relevant to the time of the audience.


5. On The First Part of Henry the Sixth, Wells and Taylor remark : “A mass of material, some invented, is packed into this play.” // So Oppenheimer invents a consequential scene with Einstein? Good for storyteller Nolan.


6. Wells and Taylor : “Historical facts are freely manipulated.” // Oppenheimer is remarkably faithful to the established facts as presented in its award-winning source material. 





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


In my beginning is my end—The beginning and ending of Oppenheimer : Shot 1 (in trailer); and at the end : I watch raindrops make circles on the surface of the pond.” (197)


This symbol has many resonances in the film. The screenplay itself suggests one resonance :Rabi opens his compasses wider . . . He draws a circle around Moscow . . .  And a circle around St Petersburg . . . Rabi’s circles EXPAND like raindrops in a puddle . . .” (106 / 109)


Here is a second :


“Glory is like a circle in the water,
Which never ceaseth to enlarge itself
Till by broad spreading it disperse to nought.”


Joan of Arc in Henry the Sixth, 1.3.112–4.

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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


Kind Reader, perhaps for the last time Scrooby will express why it is necessary to remark in print on the unique position of the film Oppenheimer in our present-day culture.


First, Shakespeare.


The First Part of King Henry the Sixth was a colossal crowd-pleaser for a variety of reasons perfectly explicable to audiences of today. It is a play in which the heroic Joan of Arc raises a sword and takes on a male adversary—indeed, a whole number of them, and sometimes at once—and not only holds her ground in battle but pushes the men back into retreat. How exciting is that? That scene would have wowed the audience—(“She’ll be a couple of years catching her breath.” Color of Money, 23:16)—leading to fantastic word of mouth.  


Shakespeare &co. in King Henry the Sixth presents a compendium of memorable human interactions. The order in which these interactions are presented worked wonderfully well on its contemporary audiences. Now comes a noteworthy observation : The History part of King Henry the Sixth would have been its least interesting element to its audiences.


Why? Because the human actions and interactions in the play can be interpolated, with nominal alteration, into an infinite variety of narrative Situations. With only a few changes, the play could have been, for example, a completely fictional tale instead of an “historical account” of a moment of English history. The play’s memorable moments, if interpolated capably into another narrative, might elicit the very same responses in audiences. It is not what is said, it is how it is said.


And that’s that.


So : Oppenheimer (2023). Yes, Scrooby has said a version of the following before, and more than once, but please let’s visit this reflection one final time (maybe)—for a reason to be identified at the end.


Oppenheimer is a first-rate narrative that works on the Unconscious and the Intuition as spectacularly well as The First Part of King Henry the Sixth. There is no way on earth that Elizabethan audiences left the theatre after the performance and enthused to their friends that “The new Shakespeare play is a wonderful education in English history!” Instead, the word-of-mouth probably went along the lines of : “It’s like Saving Private Ryan mixed with the intrigue of, say, All the President’s Men and so on and so forth, with an Awesomely Powerful Woman touched by the angels working her wondrous magic who’s a colossal uplift to experience. Trust me, Shakespeare’s worth it.”


So : Oppenheimer. Christopher Nolan knows story principles the way Shakespeare knew story principles. Now comes a big thought. Evidently, in terms of surprise success (due to the seemingly uncommercial subject matter of both), Oppenheimer is the King Henry the Sixth of our day! And The First Part of King Henry the Sixth was the Oppenheimer of its day!


(Michael Hattaway, who produced editions of the three Henry VI plays, was a teacher of mine way back when, and since he said 1 Henry VI was written first, I’m going with that.)


First, some time ago, Scrooby defined Oppenheimer as “our 70s movie”. Then Scrooby realized Oppenheimer is also “our Citizen Kane”—with the only other Hollywood actor in history able to fill Cillian Murphy’s shoes being Orson Welles at age 25. (That revelation still leaves Scrooby woozy.) Today we add Shakespeare into this unspeakable Situation. Storyteller Nolan is as consummately successful in his storytelling as Shakespeare in King Henry the Sixth! Audience acceptance of the difficult subject matters of both is proof of that statement.


A little over ten years after The First Part of King Henry the Sixth, the world received Macbeth.


Let’s chill, and wait and see, and let things be.


But wait. Scrooby has yet to finalize this post. Scroob promised to identify why such commentary as this is necessary. Someone has to spread the news that Oppenheimer is more than just another successful movie. Oppenheimer is a major storytelling event in world art. But even that Situation is not the specific reason for the necessity of this post.


The genius of Oppenheimer must be remarked on, tirelessly so, because there is so little genius in the art world today. The few remaining first-rate storytellers working in a Great Tradition reaching back more than two millennia are truly an endangered species (i.e., “We’re the last few left now.” Chinese Roulette, 18:06).


As Soderbergh once said, it’s a crime not to enjoy it while it lasts.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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Stupendous Reveal : Saving Private Ryan (1998)


4:58—5:24. A trembling hand. A hand evidently trembling on its own initiative. What might it mean? Perhaps that the trembling is an expression of something deep inside the man, something deeper than Reason, perhaps a place more human than Reason. At any rate it is an expression that the man is powerless to stop, even with his Reason. We see the Reasonable Captain Miller. It is his hand that trembles, and he seems unhappy about it—a duality to the character. What does Spielberg do next? A genius move. Standing close beside Captain Miller, Mike (Tom Sizemore) stuffs food into his mouth. So simple, but what does it mean? The food being integrated into the body will descend, unseen, down to the depths where—somewhere in there—originates the impetus for the trembling. Spielberg visualizes this inner Situation using his two principal actors. Cinema conveys the unseen!

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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon


Barton J. Bernstein, “The Oppenheimer Loyalty-Security Case Reconsidered”. Stanford Law Review 42 (July 1990), 1383–1484.

“The case was ultimately the triumph of McCarthyism—really without McCarthy himself.” (1387)

“In struggling to triumph, Strauss, sometimes aided by Hoover, did use the loyalty-security system in unethical and even illegal ways to best Oppenheimer. Strauss had the FBI wiretap Oppenheimer’s phones, and then Strauss sent reports to the AEC ‘prosecution.’ The very concept of ‘prosecution,’ rather than a fair-minded inquiry, was a violation of AEC standards that specified that the hearing not be adversarial. Thus, Oppenheimer was left without the normal protections guaranteed by a trial but with virtually all the disadvantages. Strauss also selected at least some of the members of the PSB [Personnel Security Board] in order to ensure a negative judgment” (1387)

“Edward Teller, the future father of the H-bomb, charged in a March 1950 discussion with Borden that Oppenheimer had wanted to close Los Alamos after V-J Day : ‘Let’s give it back to the Indians,’ Teller quoted Oppenheimer as saying.” (1409; see Oppenheimer script, 143)

“Strauss wanted to win, and would do whatever was necessary. To gain victory, Strauss wanted not an inquiry, and certainly not a fair one, as stipulated by AEC rules, but a trial—and a rigged one at that. . . . Strauss had maneuvered behind the scenes to rig the system. He operated freely, without scrutiny from the White House or his fellow AEC commissioners, to violate both the law and ethical standards.” (1461 / 1462)

“Unlike Hoover but like both Strauss and Teller, Borden would suffer for his actions. In 1953–1954, Borden, still young, may not have foreseen the great price he would pay in his future years. He would never again have political influence in Washington.” (1483)

“The case was, in a sense, a triumph of anti-intellectualism.” (1484)

“The Oppenheimer case was a tragedy.” (1480)





Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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The Oppenheimer (2023) phenomenon

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) Announces Public Service Awards Recognizing Outstanding Work in Science Policy and Culture (10.06.23)

The Federation will spotlight filmmaker Christopher Nolan for Oppenheimer. . . . “Nolan’s film depicts the scientists who formed FAS in the fall of 1945 as the ‘Federation of Atomic Scientists’ to communicate the dangers of nuclear weapons to the public. We continue to pursue their vision of a safer world, especially as current events remind us that those dangers are real and resurgent,” FAS CEO Daniel Correa said.



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Film / Dream


It was related earlier (in the post regarding one shot in Deliverance (1972)), that the Audience Unconscious strives automatically to make connections between elements in a film before one’s Reason even has a chance to “make reasonable sense of things”. This automatic reflex is the natural working order of the brain in all situations—including experiencing dreams, and watching movies.


The act of attempting commentary on a film narrative is no different from attempting commentary on a dream.


1. Sigmund Freud was the first to offer a large-scale analysis of the phenomenon of dreams (Die Traumdeutung, 1900). What follows is from Chapter 6a.


dream content = the dream narrative.

dream thoughts = the dream’s artist and their unconscious thoughts behind the narrative.

condensation = the amalgamation of dream thoughts into the experienced artwork of the dream.


The first thing which becomes clear to the investigator in the comparison of the dream content with the dream thoughts is that a tremendous work of condensation has taken place. The dream is reserved, paltry, and laconic when compared with the range and copiousness of the dream thoughts. The dream when written down fills half a page; the analysis, in which the dream thoughts are contained, requires six, eight, twelve times as much space.


cf. Scrooby’s intensive commentaries on film narratives.


We have already mentioned that one is really never sure of having interpreted a dream completely; even if the solution seems satisfying and flawless, it still always remains possible that there is a further meaning which is manifested by the same dream. Thus the amount of condensation is—strictly speaking—indeterminable.


cf. Scrooby’s fundamental tenet : “A work of art is Infinite”.


(Coincidentally, the last commentator whom Freud cites in the last footnote on the final page of Die Traumdeutung is “Professor Ernst Oppenheim.”)


In the final chapter of the book (7f), Freud argues the efficacy of large-scale, tireless examination of dreams :


I should then expect to find the theoretical value of the study of dreams in its contribution to psychological knowledge.


2. Jacques Lacan is celebrated at the most important psychoanalyst since Freud. In the 1964 introduction to his work The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis, he writes :


There really must be a series of crises [in the world] for [a J. Robert] Oppenheimer to question us all as to what there is in the desire that lies at the basis of modern physics.


Lacan points out—and here Scroob applies the following general statement to the specific process of absorbing a film narrative :


               The only conceivable idea of the object : that of the object as cause of desire.


That is to say : watching a film is not the satisfaction of an impulse, but the beginning of a searching.


3. Freud + Lacan + (others) = Jacques Derrida. In his essay “Force and Signification” (1967) :


“The meaning of meaning is infinite implication. . . .”


Which is why (for one reason) Kierkegaard said, “The Instant of Decision is Madness”—because whenever we make a choice, we never have the full facts to guide us.


Which is one reason why a first-rate work of art requires a lifetime and more to understand it. There is always a Revelation awaiting us beyond anything thought, no matter how far one proceeds along the process of explication.


4. One big mistake : To think we understand something—anything—to ultimate satisfaction.






Edited by Jeff Bernstein
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I just had to comment because of the level of praise you are heaping on the movie Oppenheimer. I was curious, was there anything about the movie you didn’t enjoy?


I actually personally thought it was Nolan’s worst film, it continued his more recent tradition of atrocious sound design and also seemed to play into common Hollywood tropes that you wouldn’t normally see in a Nolan film.


I realize this is entirely subjective, so I am really curious what parts of the film, if any, you thought were poorly done or uninspired.

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Technics : F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)


Chapter 1

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.”

He didn’t say any more but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I’m inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought—frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon—for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat, a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.




An audience, at the start, is readily prepared to yield to the narrative. The audience is comforted, therefore, when, at the start, the narrator sounds confident.


“In my younger . . .” Does this suggest that a long reflective duration separates the two poles of the narrator’s “younger years” and the time of the telling of the tale? With age comes wisdom—a common truism? That the narrator is both confident and mature is a large plus for the audience (who has only just begun to pay attention). Already, by the first period of the novel, the audience finds itself in good hands. A confident narrator of experienced age should tell a good story.


“In my . . . more vulnerable years”. The audience Unconscious also hears its opposite : “I am stronger now.” The confidence and wisdom of the narrator is wedded to strength. This opening is auspicious for an audience expecting a good storyteller.


“I am still a little afraid of missing something”. The audience need not worry. So scrupulous is the narrator that no crucial information will be left out of the story. Oh really?




“turning over”. As in, turning a page? “my mind”. Sync up with the audience?




“In my . . . more vulnerable years”. What happens with the word “vulnerable” here is the same phenomenon remarked on with respect to the one shot in Deliverance, above in this thread. The Unconscious figures it out and the audience’s Reason doesn’t stop to think.


“vulnerable”. As in naive and therefore weak. / Weak, in at least two ways : (1) open to outside influence; (2) unable to compose self-behaviour.


“. . . made me the victim. . .” Fundamental story principle : Peripeteia. This reveals vulnerability in the narrator, not strength.




“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one . . .” Why would the father offer this advice unless prompted? Theory : The young narrator, too “vulnerable” to contain his thoughts, criticized someone aloud, and his father responded.


Is the writing of his memoir The Great Gatsby more of the narrator’s inability to keep things to himself?




“unusually communicative in a reserved way . . .” Is the storyteller nudging the audience to be sensitive to the Indirect and Unstated?




“marred by obvious suppressions”. Again.


“I am still a little afraid of missing something”. Again.


The Great Gatsby operates at a fundamental level on the principles of the Indirect and the Unstated.




“quivering”. Expresses the physicality of a vibe. As visual as it is intimate, the word “quivering” sparks a cinematic view of the narration. / “All things hang like a drop of dew/Upon a blade of grass.”




“Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope.” A vital line, with respect to understanding art.




In consequence I’m inclined to reserve all judgments”. A cue for the audience Unconscious to do the same for the narrator?




The magic circle. When we reread these opening lines after absorbing the whole of the novel, every line takes on additional significance. This beginning can just as well be described as appearing after the end. Indeed—The narrator tells his entire story in retrospect. In his beginning the narrator already knows his end.


When we reach the beginning of The Great Gatsby via the magic circle, the narrator, everything he says, becomes skewed. Everything becomes more than what it was originally.


The miracle of this dual, musical, resonant prose has a visual equivalent in the (five-hundred dollar bill? the one-dollar bill?) in 2.4 of Stephen King’s Firestarter :


                              He dropped the plastic-encased bill as if it were hot and sat back, blinking.

                              “Did you see it?”

                              “I don’t know what I saw. For a second it doesn’t look like a one-dollar bill at all.”

                              “But now it does?”

               Cap peered at the bill. “The face seemed to change for a second there. Grew glasses, or something. Is it a trick?”

“It’s just some kind of crazy hallucination.” Al handed the one-dollar bill back to Cap, and Cap stared at it fixedly. Just as he was about to hand it back, it flickered again—unsettling.


May we define the phenomenon of the opening of The Great Gatsby as a fine exemplar of Literary Stereoscopy? When read “after the end”, the beginning has a completely different mood. This extraordinary effect is not the natural result of re-reading but consciously “engineered-in” by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

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