Film Reviews: Mustang (2015), Carol (2015), The End of the Tour (2015)

Mustang (2015), directed by Deniz Gamze Ergüven


The film takes its title from the name of wild, free-roaming horses that are an apt symbol for the strong, stubborn spirit of the group of five young sisters who are taught and ultimately forced to conform to the conservative cultural norms of their remote coastal Turkish village. The film manages to capture a special aura of innocence with an underlying layer of uneasiness around the seemingly impenetrable bond that the sisters share with each other, evoking the enigmatic atmosphere of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999). The film gradually increases the sense of urgency as the story progresses from a familiar teenage coming-of-age tale to a fascinating exploration of the conflict between these modern, free-spirited girls and the old-fashioned traditional role of women that is forced upon them and suppresses their personal identities. We see the lengths to which the adults will go to shield them from the outer world, denying simple pleasures and, in fact, imprisoning them in the house.

Despite the grim subject matter, Mustang is a believable, sensitive and moving portrait of growing up in a specific part of the world by effectively balancing the sequences of innocent, child-like play with sequences showing their continuous rebellion against oppression.

 Carol (2015), directed by Todd Haynes


Carol is a stunning period drama with close attention to detail that looks at a blossoming relationship between a young, shy photographer and a charismatic older woman in conservative 1950s America. In line with the sentiment of the time towards LGBT relationships, no direct label is ascribed to their relationship. The director has framed the shots to visually communicate the complex sentiments of the characters through subtle looks and subliminal messages that manage to speak louder than words. The film creates a clever juxtaposition between Carol’s polished style and glamorous lifestyle and her inner struggles. Both Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are excellent at portraying the unspoken emotional struggles of the characters and the intense but outwardly reserved love that they feel for each other. These characters have to play a certain role every day to conform to society’s expectations, supported by the way that the film portrays their road trip, that has an almost dreamlike quality, where the characters are portrayed as more outwardly affectionate, which gives the audience a glimpse into their true selves.

Overall, an important and hopeful exploration of a lesbian relationship amidst the prejudices of 1950s America that remains true to the spirit of the source material and adds new subtle elements through the power of visual storytelling.

The End of The Tour (2015), directed by James Ponsoldt


A compassionate, heavily dialogue-based exploration of the five-day long interview between Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg) and David Foster Wallace (Jason Segal) after the 1996 publication of his novel Infinite Jest. Their conversations about writing, television, relationships, fame, authenticity and depression effectively reveal their individual personalities, the identities they want to present to the world as well as the secrets that they try to keep under the surface. It is not a biopic since it equally focuses on Lipsky’s unrealized ambitions for the same success and critical recognition that his subject has achieved. The director focuses on moments that reveal Lipsky’s inner conflict between his genuine admiration for Wallace and his work assignment for Rolling Stone magazine that requires him to push Wallace into answering uncomfortable questions. This conflict is visually represented by the sequences that acknowledge Lipsky’s tape recorder that creates a constant palpable barrier between the interviewer and his subject.

The End of the Tour is a moving and empathetic study of two creative personalities, who, despite their different personalities and professional obligations, develop a brief bond through meaningful, self-reflective conversations on life and the craft of writing.


The Revenant by Michael Punke

[…] if Glass believed in a god, surely it resided in this great western expanse. Not a physical presence, but an idea, something beyond man’s ability to comprehend, something larger.

Edition: HarperCollins, 2015, 272 pages.

The Revenant is a classic revenge story set in mid-19th century America, and a fictionalised account of the true story of Hugh Glass, an expert fur trapper that worked for Rocky Mountain Fur Company, who gets mauled and almost ripped apart by a bear during a scouting mission along the Missouri River and is then left to die by his fellow frontiersmen, who also steal his knife and rifle. Against all odds, he manages to survive and sets out on a revenge mission across miles of American wilderness to get back at the men who wronged him and left him to die without any means of defending himself.

The life and survival of these frontiersmen depended on collective responsibility and their compliance with unwritten rules, as they faced the harsh American wilderness and fought off constant attacks from the local Native American tribes who were trying to defend their land against the foreign invaders.

I must admit that I don’t know that much about this time period in US history, so it was very interesting to read about it frontier life and the tense and violent relationship between the European settlers, who came to the frontier to realise their economic ambitions and the local Native American tribes, who were trying to maintain their territories. At the same time, it’s a fascinating look at one man’s thirst for adventure and freedom, and later also revenge, as well as his remarkable willpower to live against the worst odds.


Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy

‘It makes no difference what men think of war’, said the judge. ‘War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him. The ultimate trade awaiting its ultimate practitioner. That is the way it was and will be….
War is the ultimate game because war is at last a forcing of the unity of existence. War is god.’

Edition: Picador, 2011, 355 pages.

Cormac McCarthy’s masterpiece, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West is a western based on historical events that is narrated by a runaway called only as “the Kid” and follows the horrifying expedition of the Glanton gang of hired scalp hunters in the second half of the 19th century as they ride through the Wild West massacring Native American tribes. Their charismatic spiritual leader is Judge Holden (referred to only as “the Judge”) – a terrifying maniac, who preaches the philosophy of war, violence and intolerance, that, in his opinion, are integral elements of human life and he possesses an almost supernatural talent to persuade and influence those, who are unlucky to cross his path.

It’s a very dense but rewarding read that conjures vivid portraits of the landscape against which the reader is introduced to intriguing characters that inspire reflection on the nature of evil. The judge perfectly embodies the dangerous charm of evil that encourages and tries to justify the use of violence in a way that appeals to the particular audience. His ambitions go so far that he considers himself immortal, and at least in the sense that he’s the embodiment of the philosophy that he preaches, it seems he does continue to live on in the acts of violence that humans commit against each other.

Blood Meridian is a powerful, intellectually stimulating book, which serves as a brutal warning of the often seductive nature of evil. One of the best books I’ve ever read.


Stoner by John Williams

Stoner’s colleagues, who held him in no particular esteem when he was alive, speak of him rarely now; to the older ones his name is a reminder of the end that awaits them all, and to the younger ones it is merely a sound that evokes no sense of the past and no identity with which they can associate themselves or their careers.

Edition: Vintage, 2012, 288 pages.

With masterfully controlled and precise language that manages to capture the nuances of human emotion, Stoner is a moving account of the life of William Stoner, an ordinary and unremarkable man, who lives in a state of quiet desperation and hopelessness, with a few moments of joy and happiness.

Set in the first part of the 20th century, the main character William Stoner, a literature student and later professor, who sets out to find a higher meaning in life, to be absolutely honest and uncompromising. At the same time, he lacks the courage and willpower to prevent people from climbing onto his head and to fight for what he considers important. The novel creates an interesting contrast between Stoner’s high ideals and his lack of courage to stand for his own principles.

Based on first impressions, the novel seems like a really depressing story about a man’s dreary and unsuccessful life. However, upon closer analysis, the novel suggests a completely opposite interpretation of Stoner’s fate. He is a man who has lived a humble life, devoted to his greatest passion – literary criticism. Based on this interpretation, the story takes on a different meaning, according to which, Stoner’s life could be characterised as a selfless commitment to a thankless job, that brought to mind the quote from the novel The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger:

The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of the mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one.

Ultimately, Stoner is a very well written, moving and thought-provoking read.