Skewering Willful Ignorance and Complacency

When faced with difficult situations, it may be tempting to turn a blind eye, willingly choosing to remain oblivious and ignorant. By tuning out and wallowing in our own complacency, we have an opportunity to lull ourselves into distraction and denial, hoping that the wishful thinking spawned from such practices will somehow materialize into a bona fide reality. But what do we do when we realize that’s not going to happen, when we understand that we’ve squandered opportunities to solve the issues facing us? Such are the challenges faced in the new darkly satirical comedy, “Don’t Look Up” (web site, trailer).

Making a grand astronomical discovery should be a distinguished feather in one’s cap. Being the first to spot something previously unknown is quite an accomplishment. Indeed, it truly should be a cause for celebration.

Ordinarily, that is.

Astronomy Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence, left) and professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio, right) make a shocking discovery that threatens the future of the planet, as seen in the hilarious sci-fi social satire, “Don’t Look Up.” Photo by Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Netflix.

For Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discovering a previously unknown comet is a landmark event, one that, according to standard practice, gets her name associated with the celestial body. However, when her professorial colleague Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) charts the trajectory of the new find, he learns that the enormous astral body is headed straight for an impact with Earth in six months’ time, one that’s sure to be a planet killer. So now what?

In an effort to get the ball rolling toward implementing a possible solution, Kate and Randall contact NASA colleague Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Bowman). Together they plan a presentation for President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), an expediency-driven politico who’s more concerned with her image and agenda than with commonsense practicality, no matter how potentially problematic such decisions might be. She’s concerned that the trio of scientists is overdramatizing the situation, essentially that they’re proposing the needless spread of rampant unwarranted fear if the finding were to be made public. The often-oblivious Commander in Chief, an ingeniously concocted cross between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, suggests that everyone sit tight and assess the circumstances until further evidence is collected. The President’s woefully inappropriate response, backed by her equally clueless yes-man Chief of Staff, Jason (Jonah Hill), the nation’s First Son, leaves the astronomers (especially the unabashedly outspoken Ms. Dibiasky) perplexed and reeling. It comes across as the ultimate WTF. Indeed, with the clock ticking, there’s no time to waste.

Nevertheless, upon further study by government scientists, it soon becomes apparent that the conclusions reached by Kate, Randall and Teddy are correct and that authorities need to take action to address the impending crisis. But, true to form, President Orlean insists on managing matters in a properly finessed way to put the right spin on this dire revelation.

Kate and Randall, for instance, are urged to make a number of media appearances on popular TV shows to present their information, but in a carefully massaged form so as to soften the blow to a public that could easily lose control over this “unpleasant” news. To that end, it’s even suggested that they pursue “media training” to hone their presentation skills, such as in preparation for their appearance on The Daily Rip, a morning talk show that glibly aspires to be a cutting-edge news, political and entertainment vehicle anchored by obviously dim-witted happy talk hosts Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) and Brie Evantree (Cate Blanchett). And, even though their initial appearance doesn’t quite go as smoothly as planned, Randall quickly becomes a whizz at media work for explaining the situation in suitably appropriate audience-specific parlance, such as when he does a guest spot on a children’s program with colorful puppets a la Sesame Street.

As part of a program to “sensitively” make the public aware of the approach of a potentially planet-killing comet, astronomy Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence, right) and professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio, second from right) make a series of media appearances, such as on the morning talk show The Daily Rip anchored by hosts Brie Evantree (Cate Blanchett, left) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry, second from left), as seen in the new sci-fi social satire “Don’t Look Up,” now available for streaming online. Photo by Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Netflix.

But carefully orchestrated media appearances are only part of the President’s plan. She opts for an ambitious mission employing a recommissioned Space Shuttle that’s intended to use weapons for smashing the massive comet into smaller, more easily manageable chunks. And, in line with that, the Pres seeks a hero to serve as a shining symbol of this valiant attempt to save the planet. To lead the mission, she names former astronaut Col. Benedict Drask (Ron Perlman), a prototypical bygone era man’s man with a penchant for making public statements peppered with political incorrectness. While he may not be astutely savvy, he’s the most experienced pilot for the job and is hell-bent on keeping Armageddon at bay by taking down the son-of-a-bitch astronomical monstrosity.

Of course, President Orlean knows all too well where her bread is buttered, and so she readily seeks to accommodate generous campaign donors who want to become involved in this global rescue effort. Such is the treatment accorded Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), the enigmatic head of The Bash Corporation, an electronics and technology giant, whose super-cool guru demeanor bears more than a striking resemblance to that of the late chairman of a certain fruit-inspired enterprise. Isherwell has a vested interest in how the rescue mission unfolds and seeks to wield his considerable monetary influence to see that it turns out to his liking. And so, in yet another typical act of political expediency, POTUS looks to accommodate her benefactor by complying with his wishes, a move that complicates the worsening situation in ways that absolutely, positively defy reason.

Even though it appears that efforts are being made to rectify matters, it’s obvious by now that the patients are indeed running the asylum, a fitting metaphor if there ever were one. As events continue to spiral out of control and grow ever more absurd by the moment, the comet continues its relentless journey toward Earth. With time potentially running out, will humanity wake up and do what’s necessary to save the planet in time? Or will we fall victim to our own self-serving desires, short-term thinking and pervasive ineptitude? What’s more, will there be enough time for us to make amends with our personal circumstances and make peace with ourselves? Stay tuned.

If we were faced with comparable circumstances, what should we do? After all, with the prevalence of Near Earth Objects like comets and asteroids making close passes to the Earth, this frightening possibility might not be so far-fetched. So, given the potential consequences of something like this, we had better focus on getting our priorities straight. But will we?

In light of where we seem to be placing many of our priorities these days, it would appear that we’re putting too much emphasis on petty, ancillary, often-irrelevant concerns and not nearly enough attention on what really matters. And, in many ways, this film is a fitting metaphor for this fundamental problem. Whether we’re talking literally about an annihilating astral body impact or figuratively about any number of issues like environmental degradation, social polarization or economic inequality, they’re all potentially devastating catastrophes – and far more important than wondering what’s topping the pop charts and who their performers are sleeping with.

Ever the politically expedient “leader,” President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) launches an effort to save the planet from a killer comet through a deftly managed program of response and spin in director Adam McKay’s latest, “Don’t Look Up.” Photo by Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Netflix.

“Don’t Look Up” is a potent cautionary tale where this is concerned. And it doesn’t mince words when it comes to making this point. Director Adam McKay’s latest is intended to get us to pay attention to what matters by giving us all a big slap in the face, one that we, in our collective ignorance, genuinely need and deserve. After all, we brought on circumstances like these ourselves – and we’re the only ones who’ll be able to get ourselves out of it. That’s provided, of course, that we’re paying attention.

So how do we extract ourselves from situations like this? It depends heavily on our thoughts, beliefs and intents, for they have direct impact on the reality we experience. And, in this case, it has much to do with the beliefs we hold regarding the priorities we set for ourselves.

If Earth were facing the possibility of being struck by a planet-killing comet, what do you think the priorities should be? Well, anyone with some common sense, backed by beliefs supporting that, would probably begin looking for ways to forestall that inevitability, perhaps considering ways to break up the object into smaller components or deflect it so that it misses us. And, given the magnitude of the circumstances, it seems only logical that these efforts should be launched with all deliberate speed and concerted effort. However, the question once again rises, will we?

Considering our pervasive penchant for immersing ourselves in distractions and denial, it’s truly conceivable, as this story illustrates, that we might well turn our attention away from pressing concerns in favor of ridiculously trivial matters. After all, we seem to be doing this with many of the major issues facing us that were noted previously – environmental degradation, social polarization or economic inequality, to name just a few. It’s a seductive force, one that even manages to pull in those who start out genuinely concerned but get taken by the allure of the limelight, as seen by Dr. Mindy’s growing acceptance of his own stellar media presence. But, ultimately, focusing on who’s hot on social media won’t matter a damn if we’re being inundated by unstoppable mile-high tsunamis.

Former astronaut Col. Benedict Drask (Ron Perlman) is brought out of retirement to pilot a recommissioned Space Shuttle in an effort to save the Earth from a planet-killing comet in director Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look up.” Photo by Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Netflix.

Even the film’s title plays into this. Characters like President Orlean discourage people from looking up to see the approaching comet when it begins coming into visual range. Instead, they urge everyday citizens to keep their heads buried in their cell phones, riveted by poorly lit photos of what their cousins had for dinner than paying attention to what’s important. Anyone with any sense of reason can’t help but wonder what’s behind such mindless madness.

This calls for us to take off the blinders and set aside tunnel vision, reordering what deserves our attention and discarding what’s immaterial. It also means getting real about things and shedding feelings that we’re being personally attacked for not placing proper emphasis on the priorities that matter most. And, to a great degree, this is why this film has not set well with many viewers – because it’s hitting too close to home. To me, however, that suggests that glimmers of this picture’s message just might be getting through – and, one would hope, before it’s too late to deal with some of the growing problems we’re dealing – or not dealing – with.

In addition to working on ordering priorities, circumstances like these encourage us to adopt new mindsets. For example, they urge us to think outside the box, to devise creative solutions to existing challenges, initiatives that seek to overcome limitations and obstacles in arriving at workable answers. They also encourage us to work together, forging collective solutions through concentrated efforts of effective co-creation. These are both admirable goals in even the most mundane manifestation efforts, but, when our backs are up against the wall, they become positively essential if we hope to resolve the troubling scenarios we face.

In all these ways, “Don’t Look Up” could be seen as a more than a movie. Indeed, it could be viewed as a critical wake-up call to a sleeping society. And, if it has to shout to get that message across, then so be it. Trying to get the public’s attention with messages of lesser degrees of urgency obviously hasn’t worked, so maybe it takes a splash of ice water like this to have an impact – and one that’s ultimately nowhere near as devastating as the kind that can come from an incoming comet.

With Earth’s fate hanging in the balance, President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep, front, far right) coordinates potential planet-saving efforts with Chief of Staff, First Son Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill, front, far left), Pentagon Liaison, Lt. Gen. Stuart Themes (Paul Guilfoyle, front, center), and generous campaign donor, Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance, standing, center), in “Don’t Look Up.” Photo by Niko Tavernise, courtesy of Netflix.

I can’t help but think that the detractors of this picture – especially naysaying critics – doth protest too much when it comes to their ill-conceived complaints about this brilliant satire, primarily because the film’s criticisms hit far too close to home for the self-absorbed, supercilious elite in business, politics, and, especially, the media, the institution charged with reviewing material like this. This bitingly cynical yet consistently hilarious dark comedy about the inadequate responses of various corners of officialdom poignantly illustrates the wrong-headed emphasis that contemporary authorities place on self-serving expediency rather than genuine leadership in the face of certain doom. As a metaphor for the current state of American culture, the film is undeniably more than a little over the top, but, given the nature of the message, it also couldn’t have been anything less in order to make its point, especially to a society that has become increasingly ignorant and complacent to pay attention to what’s really going on around it. The stellar cast is superb across the board, playing their parts near perfectly for each and every character. But what’s most impressive is how genuinely funny this offering is throughout, never succumbing to lulls, pacing issues or jokes that fail to land, something few comedies can successfully pull off these days. Indeed, in a year that has been characterized by a wealth of lame releases that have been undeservedly touted for their alleged brilliance, it’s truly refreshing to see one that finally lives up to such qualities – even if many of those writing about it can’t see that for themselves, about which all I can say is, “I rest my case.” The film is currently streaming on Netflix.

Despite many of the criticisms leveled against this release, the picture has already earned a number of accolades, with more likely to follow. “Don’t Look Up” has been named one of the top movies of the year by both the National Board of Review and the American Film Institute. In addition, it picked up six nominations in the Critics Choice Award competition, including best picture, best ensemble cast, best comedy, best original screenplay, best original score and best original song. Four more nominations have come out of the Golden Globe Award contest, including best comedy picture, best comedy actor (DiCaprio), best comedy actress (Lawrence) and best screenplay.

Sounding the alarm may not be something we enjoy hearing. It can be shrill, irritating and annoying. But, when the house is on fire, we had better be thankful that someone thought up the idea of creating that alarm in the first place. Heeding its warning just might save our lives. But, if we find it obnoxious, bothersome or even insulting, we can always turn a deaf ear and hope that such willful ignorance is enough to get us by. It’s a risk, to be sure, one that easily might not pay off – and who would be sorry then?

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Movies for New Beginnings


The start of a new year is generally regarded as a time for new beginnings. Whether those intents bear fruit, of course, depends on how convinced we are that those possibilities are capable of realization, and that’s where the power of our beliefs comes into play. Those beliefs can be reinforced through powerful sources of inspiration, such as those offered up in the movies. And now you can read more about this enlightening subject in “Movies for New Beginnings” in the January/February edition of Modern Warrior magazine, available by clicking here. Check it out to see all that’s in store in this uplifting online publication!

Spotlighting the Power of Choice

All too often, we’re faced with difficult situations that pose us with perplexing choices. Evaluating the options can be dizzying, leaving us feeling as though we can’t decide. Because of this, we may often default to what appears to be the most expedient choice, a move that frequently gives us an easy out – “I didn’t have any choice in the matter” – in case things don’t unfold as planned. In the alternative, we may remain indecisive, leaving us with no viable solution to the issue at hand. But those fallbacks are innately insufficient, because we always have the power of choice at our disposal; in fact, it’s incumbent upon us to act on it. All we need do is consider our options, deliberate the matter and proceed with making a decision that appears to be our best choice. Such are the circumstances of a troubled protagonist in the new sci-fi drama, “Swan Song” (web site, trailer).

Time is running out for Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali). The young father and husband has been diagnosed with a terminal illness, one that he’s been able to conceal rather effectively from his wife, Poppy (Naomie Harris), and son, Cory (Dax Rey). However, as the disease progresses, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to hide his condition; seizures, fainting spells and mild hemorrhaging are occurring with greater frequency and without warning, making it hard to pretend that there’s nothing wrong. Yet Cameron is reluctant to say anything for fear of the devastating impact it will have on his family, particularly his wife. The couple has just recently begun to recover from a period of grieving brought on by the sudden death of Poppy’s twin brother, Andre (Nyasha Hatendi), a time characterized by emotional distancing that nearly caused the dissolution of their marriage.

Husband and father Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali, left) and his wife, Poppy (Naomie Harris, right), share a loving bond that’s threatened to be destroyed by an impending demise, as seen in writer-director Benjamin Cleary’s debut feature, “Swan Song.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Fortunately, though, there may be a solution to help ease the potential suffering Cameron’s family would experience with his impending passing. Given that this is the near future, science has progressed to a point where a recently developed technology offers the prospect of shielding families like Cameron’s from the pain that would ordinarily be expected to accompany the death of a loved one. Thanks to the research of Dr. Jo Scott (Glenn Close), Cameron has an opportunity to replace himself with a replicated double, essentially a clone who’s virtually identical physically and genetically to its original, including transferred memories and sentience.

Cameron is intrigued but unsure about the prospects of proceeding with this plan. For starters, for it to be effective, he cannot say a word about it or his illness to Poppy and Cory. Dr. Scott says that this is the only way to ensure a seamless transition at the time when the original Cameron is replaced by his successor. And, given the progression of Cameron’s condition, the time frame is quickly shortening.

On top of this, however, the plan troubles the patient in several other respects. For example, will Cameron’s replacement provide a sufficiently convincing substitute? To help allay those concerns, Dr. Scott suggests that Cameron meet one of her previous test subjects, Kate (Awkwafina). The patient, who’s nearing the end of her life and now lives at Dr. Scott’s research facility, has already been replaced by her substitute with the subject’s family. Both the replacement and her relatives are oblivious that any kind of switch has been made, something that Dr. Scott encourages Cameron to see for himself.

But, even with that confirmation, Cameron still has his doubts. Is he truly doing something to benefit his family? Or is he seeking to pull off a grand deception that he can’t bring himself to live with, one that could be looked upon as the ultimate cruel joke? What’s more, even though he knows that his artificially generated self is essentially “him,” can he realistically stand by and watch someone whom he perceives as another individual step in to what has been his life and take over the role that he has been fulfilling, especially given the intimate nature involved?

Researcher Dr. Jo Scott (Glenn Close), developer of a technology designed to ease the transition for families of dying loved ones, struggles to convince a doubtful patient of the procedure’s viability in “Swan Song,” now available in theaters and for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

To address that issue, Dr. Scott and her coordinating colleague, Dalton (Adam Beach), recommend a series of sessions in which Cameron and his activated doppelganger converse and become acquainted. The researchers hope that, once Cameron interacts with his successor, any apprehensions he might have will be dissolved once he has an opportunity to see how convincing his own replacement is. But will that be enough to allay his fears? And, with the time for potential substitution fast approaching, will the original have sufficient time to be able to say a veiled farewell to his family before returning to the research facility to live out his days? Those are the questions that all concerned must address while time still permits. And, of course, the key question is, “What will Cameron ultimately choose?”

It would seem that Cameron is faced with quite a dilemma, and he’s having considerable difficulty sorting it out. So what is he to do? Ultimately it all comes down to his beliefs, for they will dictate how events unfold. The problem here, however, is that Cameron isn’t sure what he believes, and that’s playing havoc with his decision-making process.

What Cameron needs to understand is that the outcome will depend on the beliefs that govern his power of choice. That’s quite a potent force, too, given what it ultimately makes possible. But, when we’re unable to decide what we want, we’re stuck in limbo, and that nearly always results in a lack of resolution. Indeed, if we’re not able to get behind a particular desired outcome, nothing often happens. It’s as if we’re trying to manifest a specific result – and not trying to manifest that result – simultaneously. The outcome is a stalemate because the contradictory beliefs at work cancel each other out. And that, regrettably, leaves Cameron no closer to a satisfactory resolution.

So how does one resolve a situation like this? It calls for looking deep within to see what beliefs our authentic self is embracing. This is what Cameron clearly needs to do. He must frankly ask himself, “What do I really want?”

Terminal patients Cameron (Mahershala Ali, left) and Kate (Awkwafina, right) discuss the merits and drawbacks of a technology designed to spare their families the pain of their deaths in writer-director Benjamin Cleary’s debut feature, “Swan Song.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

Given the magnitude of this decision, Cameron is wise to be as deliberative as he is, despite the frustration he might be experiencing in coming to a definitive conclusion. For example, he’s obviously torn in terms of trying to determine whether following Dr. Scott’s recommendation would ultimately be helpful or hurtful. Would he be doing something to successfully stifle Poppy’s pain, the kind of anguish she experienced with the loss of her brother only magnified many times over? Or would he be committing a grand deception that he couldn’t live with? That’s certainly a weighty question – and one in which he can readily see the impact that would flow from each choice.

In ethical stand-offs like this, it helps to understand how the beneficiary of a decision like this might feel. If Poppy doesn’t realize what’s transpiring and is allowed to continue living her life with the same sort of happiness she’s long enjoyed with Cameron, is she really being hurt if he agrees to proceed with the replacement process? Would she truly feel hurt if she knew what Cameron was contemplating, especially since it would be done out of his love for her and his desire to spare her the pain she’d experience with full knowledge of what he was actually going through? After all, wouldn’t this be the kind of “final gift” that we’d all like to be able to bestow upon our loved ones?

To a great degree, this is why Dr. Scott urges Cameron to meet Kate’s replacement to see how well she has integrated herself into the life of her predecessor. It might not cement his decision, but it could go a long way toward influencing it. Admittedly, Dr. Scott has a vested stake in this as someone who wants to see her work furthered. But, at the same time, she obviously cares a great deal about what can come from a procedure like this. After all, if she didn’t feel that way, she probably never would have worked at developing this technology in the first place, especially when she can see the potential good it can do.

But, even after seeing Kate 2.0 in action, Cameron is still not fully convinced. And that’s why he also needs to spend time in the company of the original Kate to try and determine why she decided to go through with the replacement procedure. It’s also why he needs to spend time in the company of his own replacement to see how closely his successor comes to matching his looks, beliefs, memories and other attributes. Perhaps these interactions will help him to reach a decision, something he obviously needs to do – and soon.

In the end, however, cases like this require one to not only examine one’s own beliefs, but also to assess those held by the loved ones that one is trying to help. If Cameron genuinely knows his wife as well as he believes he does, this should help to guide him in making a final decision. But, no matter which way he ultimately leans, Cameron must understand that his decision will be the product of a co-creation between himself and Poppy, something that one would hope would give him some peace of mind. The key consideration for Cameron is, “What would provide the most satisfactory outcome for all concerned?” – and then hope that whatever decision he makes will bear that out. If he knows his loved ones as well as he claims to, reaching that decision should eventually come to him without hindrance and with a sense of reconciliation, provided he trusts himself and places trust in what he believes are the views of others.

Cameron Turner (Mahershala Ali, right) meets Cameron Turner 2.0 (Mahershala Ali, left), a successor designed to take his place in the event of his death, in “Swan Song.” Photo courtesy of Apple TV+.

The inevitability of death – and the effort to manage (possibly even forestall) the fallout that comes in its wake – is a serious matter for us all, one that truly deserves profound contemplation, the kind that’s rarely seen in the movies. But that’s where writer-director Benjamin Cleary’s debut feature steps forward. This moving sci-fi offering poses a variety of deep questions and an array of moral dilemmas for a man who wants to do right but is unsure how to handle his circumstances. While the film suffers from some occasional pacing issues in the first half, it nevertheless delivers a number of affecting moments as the picture moves toward its heart-tugging conclusion, providing touching dramatic moments not often seen in films of this genre. The picture’s gorgeous cinematography and clever special effects add elements of beauty and whimsy to the powerhouse performances of its superb cast, most notably that of Golden Globe Award nominee Mahershala Ali, who turns in yet another dynamite portrayal, easily one of the best male lead roles of the year. “Swan Song” may not make for light, fluffy fare, but it certainly is one of the most thought-provoking and important films of 2021. The film has been available in limited theatrical release and can be seen via streaming online.

When we’re approaching our final act, we’re often faced with some of the most significant decisions we’ll make during our entire lifetimes. Consequently, the choices associated with those matters are crucial for determining what becomes of us, our legacy and our surviving kindreds. Given their importance, we can’t allow ourselves to wallow in indecision or table the issues for another time, simply because, barring a miracle, there won’t be another time. In that case, then, we must muster up the courage, conviction and commitment to make use of our power of choice while we still have the time and the wherewithal to do so. As in Cameron’s case, there may be a lot riding on what decisions we make and how they’ll affect the loved ones who’ll carry on in our absence – regardless of whether or not they know the truth behind it.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Fishing for Solutions

Challenging times call for creative solutions. But, when the circumstances are especially dicey, what are we to do? Where do we look for the inspiration to devise inventive answers to our problems? We may think that we don’t have any viable options open to us, but they’re there if we know where – and how – to look. Such are the challenges posed to the protagonist of the thought-provoking Maltese drama, “Luzzu” (web site, trailer).

As time marches on, things invariably change. That’s particularly true when tradition clashes with progress. Which force will win out? For Maltese fisherman Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna), that’s a question that has taken on tremendous significance in his life. Jesmark spends his days pursuing the maritime fruits of the Mediterranean in his luzzu, a traditional, brightly painted wooden fishing boat that has been in his family for generations. Fishing with these boats has been a time-honored tradition in the waters off Malta, but it’s always been a hard way of making a living. And, given the changes that have been occurring in the island nation’s fishing industry since Malta became part of the European Union, it’s been getting harder and harder all the time. New supranational ecological regulations and the emergence of advanced fishing techniques, such as the deployment of enormous trawlers by major corporations, have changed the game considerably, marginalizing many independent anglers and forcing many of them out of business or into accepting EU-sponsored buyouts.

Maltese fisherman Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna) ekes out a living collecting his daily catch in his luzzu, a traditional wooden Maltese fishing boat, in “Luzzu.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Jesmark is by no means immune from these conditions, either. He painstakingly toils to obtain his daily catch, which often yields minimal results, both in terms of the number of fish he reels in and the amount of money he earns at the market auctions, proceedings that often seem rigged in favor of a select few operators. And, on top of that, he’s now developed a serious leak in his boat, forcing him off the waters until he and his friend, David (David Scicluna), can make necessary repairs.

This is all coming at a bad time, too, given what’s going on in his home life. Given the paltry income that fishing is generating these days, Jesmark’s wife, Denise (Michela Farrugia), has had to take a job to help make ends meet. They need the funds to maintain the household and to pay the medical bills for their newborn son, Aiden (Timur Ali), who, according to his pediatrician (Marcella Theuman), requires special care to stimulate his underdeveloped growth. These conditions have consequently begun to strain their relationship, a circumstance made worse by Jesmark’s mother-in-law, Carmen (Frida Cauchi), who has never liked him and often made it plainly clear that Denise could have done better than him.

In an effort to help out financially while his luzzu is in dry dock, Jesmark pursues alternate sources of income, some questionable (such as fencing stolen petrol to drivers looking to stretch their gas money), some legitimate (such as joining David on his fishing boat to help him with his daily catch). As was often the case when Jesmark was marketing his own wares at auction, he witnesses David getting shafted on payment for his catch. But, this time, Jesmark also discovers that the auctioneers are engaging in some behind-the-scenes black market dealings. The auction boss (Stephen Buhagiar) and his right-hand man, Uday (Uday McLean), try leaning on Jesmark to ensure his silence, but he uses his knowledge of their shady practices as leverage to secure a job with his onetime opponents.

This development helps generate the funds he needs, but he’s increasingly asked to do things that grow progressively more dubious. It pains him as he wrestles with his conscience, the effects of which not only impact his vocational pursuits, but also spill over into his increasingly troubled personal life. At the same time, when he considers what he’s earning now compared to what he was clearing as a luzzu fisherman, he begins having doubts about whether or not he wants to return to that way of life, even as repairs on the boat proceed. Those doubts are further stoked when he runs into his old friend, Kevin (Yuric Allison), a onetime fisherman who accepted an EU buyout and now appears to be living more comfortably than when he was working the sea.

Fisherman Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna, right) and his wife, Denise (Michela Farrugia, left), share the challenges of a young married couple in director Alex Camilleri’s debut feature, “Luzzu.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

In short order, Jesmark is faced with some important decisions. Does he return to his former way of life, or does he stay the course with his new “colleagues”? Is his marriage on solid ground, or is a parting of the ways in the works? Indeed, will tradition manage to prevail, or will it surrender to the path of progress? A lot is obviously on the line. How will it all shake out?

For his part, Jesmark has some difficult choices ahead of him. But what should he do? Well, that depends on what he believes, for his thoughts, beliefs and intents will determine how events unfold. And his existence going forward could assume many forms depending on the choices he makes and the beliefs that underlie them.

The various choices Jesmark has available to him cover a wide range of areas. For example, should he continue to stay the course with his traditional form of fishing, or should he pursue something more contemporary, such as taking a job on a trawler or working with the auctioneer? This choice, in turn, is governed by a number of other considerations. For instance, fishing with his one-man luzzu is a time-honored tradition that has been in his family for generations, and it’s a way of life he honestly enjoys, one that even Denise is willing to make sacrifices for in order to indulge his passion. However, the meager catches he draws from this venture yield little money, income that’s probably lower than what he deserves to get given the rigging of the auction system. He could counter that issue by taking the EU-sponsored buyout and securing a more conventional job working for someone else, even if it means giving up a cherished way of life and subverting his passions in the process. Such decisions generally don’t come easily.

In light of Jesmark’s circumstances, the choices he makes carry implications that extend beyond his vocational pursuits. Given Aiden’s condition, for example, he needs to generate enough income to pay for his medical treatments. Can he realistically afford them if he insists on continuing to follow a traditional path, or must he sacrifice that for the welfare of his son? Likewise, considering the adjustments Denise has made to keep the household afloat, shouldn’t Jesmark make comparable alterations in his work routine to assist his wife in her efforts to keep things on an even keel? And what fallout awaits him – and their marriage – if he doesn’t?

Dubious auctioneer (Stephen Buhagiar, third from left, back to camera) and his right-hand man, Uday (Uday McLean, far left), run a questionable operation favoring a select few fisherman over others like David (David Scicluna, standing, blue shirt) and Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna, standing, brown shirt) in the engaging morality play, “Luzzu.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Clearly there’s a lot on the line in connection with these choices. Thus it behooves Jesmark to choose wisely, and that’s where a deliberate assessment of his beliefs comes into play. In particular, he needs to examine the beliefs at his core, those associated with his authentic self. Would he realistically cling to selfish beliefs that could potentially ruin his finances and family life? Or is he willing to make choices that allow him to do right by Aiden, Denise and his bank account, even if it means choosing to do something he finds less satisfying than what he has done traditionally? That decision is further complicated by the nature of some of the things he’s asked to do once he begins working for the auctioneer. Can he indeed live with himself if it means compromising his ethics and values just to make a better buck (or, in his case, a better euro)?

Again, these are not easy decisions given all of the ramifications involved. This is very much a case of having to weigh the aforementioned dilemma of tradition versus progress. It can be difficult to let go of what we love in order to do what we know is a higher priority. This has to be painful in some respects, but it also calls for taking into account what’s essential under prevailing conditions. It would be unconscionable to tell Denise that their child must go without medical care just so Jesmark can continue pursuing a vocation that gives him pleasure. At the same time, though, he must also weigh the fulfillment of this need against his conscience and what he’s being asked to do to carry out his parental obligation.

Arriving at a workable solution calls for getting creative, thinking inventively to come up with an answer that addresses all of the relevant considerations involved here. When we realize that all manifestation possibilities are available to us at any given moment, such awareness often opens the door to devising solutions we may not have previously envisioned. This not only helps us out of jams like this, but it also provides us with an important transferable materialization skill that we can employ in other comparably challenging situations. That’s quite a metaphysical bargain.

This scenario also draws attention to another key manifestation consideration – that everything is in a constant state of becoming. This inherently evolutionary principle ultimately comes into play in everything we experience. It provides the basis, for example, of the question of tradition versus progress. This doesn’t necessarily mean that one force will always win out over the other, but changes of some sort will always result in circumstances like these. Indeed, everything is in a constant state of becoming.

Traditional fishing practices such as those engaged in by fishermen like Jesmark (Jesmark Scicluna, second from left) make for a hard way of life in director Alex Camilleri’s debut feature, “Luzzu,” now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

All of the foregoing concepts permeate the narrative of this morality play. They combine to provide a framework that all of us may have to face at some point in our lives – the resolution of hard choices. When confronted by such conditions, we may find the circumstances to be difficult, challenging and perhaps even cruelly unfair. Nevertheless, they also help us to expand our horizons and enlighten us in unimagined ways, enabling us to become more innovative and resourceful creators in our own right. And who would have thought something as valuable as that could come out of determining ways to catch a few fish?

While the narrative of this engaging Maltese offering may seem somewhat familiar (at least superficially), there are plot developments that defy formula and take the film in unexpected directions. Add to that the picture’s fresh locale and little-known subject matter, and you’ve got a truly intriguing release. But what’s perhaps most impressive about this debut feature from director Alex Camilleri, a nominee for the Independent Spirit Awards’ Someone to Watch Award, is the strength of the performances he’s managed to evoke from a cast consisting of many nonprofessional actors, including protagonist Jesmark Scicluna, winner of the 2021 Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Award for Acting in the Dramatic World Cinema competition. In dealing with powerful universal themes like tradition versus progress, weighing the expediency of need fulfillment against the preservation of moral values, and knowing when to hold on or let go, all as seen through the lens of the Maltese fishing industry and the struggles of a young married couple trying to manage the challenges of being new parents, the film paints a captivating picture on a variety of fronts, one that never becomes muddled and manages to succeed at wrapping up all of its various story threads by movie’s end. “Luzzu” has thus far largely flown under the radar, playing primarily at film festivals and in limited theatrical release. However, as one of the better films in an otherwise-disappointing year at the movies, this is definitely worth your time now that it’s available for streaming. Indeed, this is one fish story you won’t want to miss.

The act of fishing in this story is not only literal, but also suitably metaphorical. Dilemmas like those Jesmark faces push us to stretch our problem-solving abilities, to become innately more creative in the ways we address the challenges before us. This means plumbing the depths of our consciousness, much in the same way that a fisherman plumbs the depth of the seas to find his or her catch. Great rewards often await us in those murky depths, even if we don’t recognize them until we latch on to what’s below. The outcomes often prove eminently suitable, if not pleasantly delightful. But we’ll never know until we drop our lines in the water and see what we come up with.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

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