Behind the Cover Art
Photo Credit: University of St Andrews
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Angry Girls: Female Rage in Art
In this article Deia Leykind explores the depiction of female rage in artworks by Paula Rego and Yoshitomo Nara, arguing that messages of activism lie behind these images.
Images: Tate; Sotheby’s
When my friends come into my dorm room, the first thing they usually do is inspect the images on my pinboard. And one of the first comments they always make, after the “you look so much like your mum!” and the “this is such a cute photo”, is a bemused “why is there an angry dog on your pinboard, Deia?”. The image in question is, of course, Paula Rego’s Dog Woman (1952) [Fig. 1]. Among smiling photos of family and friends, and prints of colourful, dream-like Matisse and Picasso paintings, my postcard of Dog Woman certainly sticks out like a throbbing thumb. Indeed, it is an image that refuses to go overlooked, radiating anger and rage - the image shouts at you; don’t you turn away from me.
I then go on to explain that Dog Woman is one of my favourite artworks of all time. Its raw depiction of a rage so deep it becomes almost primitive stands in as a metaphor for all kinds of issues that women have to tussle with, trying to negotiate a sense of self amidst a society that tells them how they must look and act if they are to be desirable. This pencil sketch is the first of Rego’s Dog Women series, which all centre around women posing and behaving like dogs – the woman is animalised. Just like a snarling pet dog, a woman is, in Rego’s own words, “trapped, but she can bite.” There is a tension between submission and defiance in the drawing that I think all women will be able to recognise in themselves, a struggle that is embedded in the female experience.
Crouched on the floor with wild hair, barred teeth, and her back arched, this hybrid bestial creature looks ready to explode. The clenched fists, gaping mouth and smudgy, chaotic pencil lines, as if scratched into the paper in a frenzy, suggest acute suffering. I think that this in particular sparks a chord with female viewers, who first pity the woman’s suffering, and then feel angry, when they realise that the Dog Woman’s suffering is merely a reflection of their own. However, what is so important about Rego’s Dog Women is that these figures are not meant to be viewed as downtrodden and snubbed but as powerful– they are angry, and there is no taming or quieting them.
Another contemporary artist interested in depicting ‘angry girls’ is Yoshitomo Nara. His signature iconography of young girls who stare at you with piercing eyes, set against a blank background to allow for no distraction, are instantly recognisable. As the viewer meets their gaze, there is no mistaking how Nara’s subjects are feeling; irritated, sullen, hostile, defiant – angry. The viewer cannot help but wonder – who is responsible for this anger, what is its source? Are we complicit in causing her rage, the offenders, or do we share in her unhappiness as victims? Perhaps both.
Knife Behind Back (2000) [Fig. 2] is a particularly striking example of this trope in Nara’s oeuvre and, sold for almost £19,000,000 at auction, holding the title of being the most expensive artwork sold by a living Japanese artist. The style greatly contrasts with that of Dog Woman, with its slick, refined lines and bold treatment of the figure. The block colours allude to the visual language of cartoons, but also suggest ideas of icon status, this angry girl being put forward as a figurehead, an emblem for all angry girls. The clash of the vivid red and green colours amplifies the tone of rage that seethes through this painting. The title adds an even more sinister dimension, by indicating that, though we cannot see it, the girl is holding a knife behind her back. Like Rego’s piece, Nara’s subject is not going to be calmed down or shut up – rather, she is waiting to strike.
These works are about female rage – they make me realise that I am angry, and that that’s okay. I deserve to be angry. Women deserve to be angry. As Pauline Harmange puts it in her provocatively titled book I Hate Men, “the reason we [women] are fed up isn’t because we’ve got an aggressive temperament, but because of a profound sense of an injustice of which we are all victim.” Being angry is not something to be ashamed of, we should not try to hide and repress it. Instead, we should perhaps be focusing on harnessing our inner fires as forces for change, confidence, rebellion.
The girls in these artworks are fed up – no, they’re not going to plaster on a smile and pretend that everything is okay anymore. And the implication is, I think, that neither should we.
The Appeal of Wes Anderson: A Modern Obsession with Vintage?
In this article Katie Norris looks into the stylistic choices of film director Wes Anderson, linking the vintage feel of his cinema to an overarching modern infatuation with artefacts of the recent past.
Image: Vanity Fair
Bold, eccentric and indisputably distinctive, Wes Anderson’s cinematographic style is certainly one of a kind. Known for his innovative characters, sets, and use of colours and cameras, Anderson films have become a comfort for many. But why have his stylistic choices become such a phenomenon?
I think the answer is simple. It feels vintage. His preference for faded colours, old-timey wardrobes and sets, and the use of songs from throughout his childhood, all support these ‘retro’ sensibilities. When my boyfriend took me to see ‘The French Dispatch’ in November, I was certainly captivated by the film’s whimsical creativity; the lack of gadgets, gizmos and modern flashiness was palpable. I had never seen a Wes Anderson film before, but it felt somewhat nostalgic, and I left the cinema feeling as though I had travelled in time. I almost expected to see old cars, and men in suits, canes, and bowler hats, holding women in long dresses, and pristine curls parading down North Street. When we were greeted instead with street lamps, phone notifications and aggressive car revving, I missed the blanket of comfort Anderson’s style had given me, a feeling that can only be likened to reminiscing over aged home videos.
But why are we so comforted and attracted to the atmosphere of the past?
Crucially, Anderson’s decision to create films which give off this vintage feel is not a unique and unfounded decision. There has been a growing infatuation for all things ‘vintage’ not only in cinema, but in fashion, home decor and literature too. I think we are all guilty of rooting through our parents’ wardrobe, hoping to find that funky top from that picture taken in the 80s, only to be met with bitter disappointment when all that can be found is a suspiciously stained pair of pregnancy jeans. This desperation to find timeless and quirky pieces has become intertwined with the word ‘vintage’, now synonymous with individuality and being one of a kind.
But what are we really searching for? Perhaps our newfound appreciation for mum’s old Live Aid vest is not simply suggestive of an appreciation for our recent past, but instead evidence of a fear of the future. I think our generation is slowly rejecting modernity. Whereas all previous generations seemed to push forward, to forget worldwide trauma, and constantly develop to erase brutal histories, our generation is instead quickly becoming one of retrospection. We look back much more than we do forward, and it is arguably leading us to a place of creative stagnation. Perhaps, Anderson can be criticised as a director too embedded in the past as by submerging his films in ‘vintage’ styles and technologies, is he not preventing cinematic growth?
In a time that feels ever more disconcerting and dark, with looming world wars, a global pandemic and economic crisis round every corner, our future can hardly be described as promising. So, perhaps when we choose to capture memories on a film camera, despite having your phone in hand, or frame some mundane advert from the 1940s because it looks ‘vintage’, or wear dad’s T-shirt from his gap year in the 70s, we are simply trying to find comfort in what we already know. In a world that changes so rapidly, it seems as though even the youth cannot keep up, searching for roots in the past, rather than craving the future.
But what we are left with is this kind of bleak and grey filter. Everything feels somewhat familiar without quite feeling nostalgic; these aren’t our memories to cling to. Truth be told, when teenagers purchase old typewriters from eBay, or finally save for that vinyl player, they are more likely to gather dust as quirky room decor than be used. So instead of giving these outdated items longevity of purpose, we are simply using them for their aesthetics.
Wes Anderson kidnaps vintage for its aesthetics in the same way. His cinematography feels comforting, quirky, and different from other Hollywood success stories, but by playing off vintage sensibilities, it all feels a little too familiar to truly credit his work as innovative originality. Overall, we are left with the impression that we have reached a creative plateau, for Anderson’s style simply regurgitates the past in HD and colour.
Cathay, or: What Happened to all the Cool Translators?
Aldwin Li looks at Ezra Pound’s Cathay to discuss the question of artistic license in translation both there and elsewhere.
Say you’re translating a collection of Chinese poems which are all over a thousand years old. What do you need? A dictionary, you’re thinking. Maybe a few hefty reference books on Classical Chinese grammar. Probably a solid grasp of the language that would take years to master. You would think that Ezra Pound, who published such translations in his anthology Cathay (1915), would agree. “Dear Dad,” he writes in 1922, “given infinite time I MIGHT be able to read a Chinese poem. BUT,” he stresses, “I shd . Scarcely attempt it unless there were some urgent reason. […] No I am not a Sinologue. Don’t spread the idea that I read it a zeasy as a yourapean langwidge.” (The misspelling of ‘as easy as a European language’ is preserved from the original letter.)
You can hear Ezra Pound shrugging. He would probably say, “what do you mean, I ‘need’ to know the language? All I needed to translate the Chinese of Rihaku was the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa and the decipherings of the Professors Mori and Ariga.” In fact, he attributes his translation (or ‘translation’) to exactly these sources on the cover page of Cathay.
Not only has the app seen the engagement with this side of TikTok grow at a consistently steady pace, but there are real life results for authors and publishing houses as well. Adam Silvera’s 2017 novel They Both Die At The End gained huge popularity on the platform last year, and sales were boosted to the extent that over half of the novel’s total sales were from 2021 alone. We are in the midst of a reading revolution; the literary publicity and marketing worlds are running to keep up in the hope that one of their novels will be the next to go viral and experience a boost in sales. The trend is taking off, and Booktokers are now getting sent books by both authors and publishers.
Cathay and Pound have since been slammed on various counts, especially in modern commentaries. The charges go from ‘the most extreme form of domestication’ (Janey Tracey, 2017) to simply being ‘absurdly reductionist’ (@A_Noyd, 2021). And yet, critics both East and West have praised Pound’s work in Cathay. Hugh Kenner states that ‘[the real achievement of Cathay] lay not on the frontier of comparative poetics, but securely within the effort […] to rethink the nature of an English poem’; Yip Wai-Lim that ‘he is able to get into the central concerns of the original author by what we may perhaps call a kind of clairvoyance’. But you may be thinking, it’s not even a proper translation! He misattributed one anonymous poem from the Bronze Age to a politician who lived maybe half a millennium later; he quoted and mis-quoted all his names in Japanese transliterations of Chinese; he did nothing to translate the original meter or form.
Here’s the thing, though. I like the poems in Cathay.
I’m going to suggest something that would potentially get this article crucified by the Orthodox Translation Authorities. Forget, just for a second, that Cathay claims to be a translation. Read it as an anthology of works inspired by the Ancient Chinese source texts, transplanting cuttings from the feeling of the originals; feeding them with contemporary allusions and contexts; growing them into something new. An untitled poem about a courtesan turned housewife married to a negligent husband is given an extra nostalgia for ‘the old days’ and a title about as flattering as matrimonial abandonment: ‘The Beautiful Toilet’. ‘Leave-Taking Near Shoku’’s original opening line, ‘one hears of the road of Ts’an Ts’ong…’ instead inspires a dramatic assertion of ‘Sanso, King of Shoku, built roads’ to ‘Shoku, a proud city’ with declarations of mortal achievements counterpoint to the message that ‘Men’s fates are already set’. And ‘Gathering Vetch’, thought to be a Bronze Age wartime song, is explicitly foregrounded by Pound as a ‘Song of the Bowmen of Shu’ on the frontlines of war; the original poem paints pictures of ‘splendid blossom’ and ‘great chariot’, but nothing is ‘splendid’ or ‘great’ in Pound’s. The soldiers’ complaints are internalised in the original, but in Pound’s poem they watch their General’s horses and observe how ‘[even] his horses are tired’, plead if ‘we will be let to go back in October’.
Read these poems as an English reader in 1915 who would have been hearing about or even fighting in their own war – what would you have been looking for, what would have resonated with you? Or, if you’d rather stay in the present: surely there’s something to those poems, if they’ve managed to get the attention of scholars (through controversy or otherwise) for all of the last century? Conserving the original authors’ intent is a cornerstone of translation, but shouldn’t there be room for approaching works outside your own language with more artistic license than a dictionary?
This question isn’t confined to the works of twentieth-century fascist anti-Semites (as Lucas Klein flatteringly describes Pound). In 2016 Han Kang’s The Vegetarian became the first Korean-language novel to win the Man Booker International Prize, awarded to both author Han Kang and translator Deborah Smith. Smith was praised widely for her work, but critics East and West panned Smith’s work for mistranslation. Tim Parks in the New York Times declared the translation to be ‘frequently in trouble with register and idiom’; Huffington Post Korea stated it was completely ‘off the mark’; Charse Yun of Korea Exposé quoted a university research paper on how ‘10.9 percent of the first part of the novel was mistranslated. Another 5.7 percent of the original text was omitted. And this was just the first section alone.’ Authorial approval is not a question here – Han Kang herself read and approved the translations. And yet the jury is still out.
Whether we’re looking at Pound’s Cathay or Smith’s The Vegetarian, this hundred-year-old question remains. Vladimir Nabokov would have it that ‘the clumsiest literal translation is a thousand times more useful than the prettiest paraphrase’; Jorge Luis Borges that ‘the original is unfaithful to the translation’. How ‘cool’ can a translator be before their work no longer qualifies as a translation and falls under the (infinitely less prestigious) label of adaptation instead? Or is all that secondary to what Charse Yun himself says is ‘perhaps the most important task of all’ – creating a vessel that will bring something of the original to those who would otherwise never have read it?
I’ll answer this with something I personally wrote in 2019 for the Young Poets’ Network’s Poetry Translation Challenge. Our task was to translate a poem by Armenian poet Lola Koundakjian, with an intermediate text that gave us a literal translation of the original into English. (Unfortunately, I know as much Armenian as Pound did Chinese.) The original gave ‘write poems and/create new ideas’; I wrote ‘craft poems/that cradle new convictions’. One separates the two clauses, the other joins them. So: are translations separate from new ideas? Or can they create new ideas? Which one is ‘cool’? I will leave that for you to decide.
Et tu, Tom? Familial betrayal in HBO's 'Succession'
In this article, Eleanor looks at familial dysfunction and betrayal in the incredibly-popular HBO show ‘Succession’, and how the show plays on modern audiences’ fascination and obsession with unlikable, backstabbing characters.
For as long as the genre has existed, dramatists have been fascinated by the concept of the family unit and how mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, parents and children, operate within the domestic sphere. The stories of family we remember, however, are stories of dysfunction, where relations are strained and far from harmonious. The Greeks found their greatest tragedies in familial dramas like Oedipus Rex, with the failure of living up to one’s predecessors often culminating in violence. Rarely do William Shakespeare’s plays explore the dynamic of a happy family. More often than not, children find themselves divided by a patriarchal figure like Lear in King Lear or struggling with the absence of one like Hamlet’s Hamlet. Even the families that are seemingly agreeable find themselves let down or frustrated by a lack of understanding from those who are supposed to be closest to them. Playwrights of the 20th century like Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller turned the lens onto families too, realising the appeal of seeing what should be private and behind closed doors play out before our very eyes. The strained relations between Blanche, Stanley and Stella reach unthinkable heights in A Streetcar Named Desire, where the lines are blurred between family and lover in A View from the Bridge. There is a shared understanding between writer and viewer that callous words said by those who share your name, and backstabbing from those who are supposed to love you unconditionally, is another calibre of betrayal all together.
HBO’s ‘Succession’, created by Jesse Armstrong, is the latest TV drama to explore the dynamic of a dysfunctional family, but this one is different than most in that business and family are utterly entwined. Loosely based on media mogul Rupert Murdoch and his three children, it follows the Roy family and their running of Waystar Royco, a media conglomerate with hands in news, broadcasting and entertainment. Waystar starts and ends with Logan, father of Kendall, Shiv and Roman, and the pilot makes clear that who takes over, or succeeds, Logan in his role as CEO of the company, is a contentious question. It is not, however, until Logan’s health takes a turn and the future of the company is thrown into jeopardy that we see just how far the siblings are willing to go to stake their claim on the job – and how much Logan revels in their division.
At the beginning of the series, it is only Kendall who is seriously primed to take Logan’s spot, with Logan preparing to announce as much in the first episode. Actively working for Waystar, he emulates much of his father’s approach to business, opening a meeting with the crude and Logan-esque ‘Are we ready to fuck or what?’. Yet barely concealed beneath the surface, Kendall is dogged with insecurity, newly divorced and newly sober after years of drug addiction and stays in rehab. Out of all the Roys, it is perhaps Kendall who is most desperate to impress his father as Roman and Shiv, on the other hand, are considered to have taken a backseat in the company. Roman avoids mentorship from one of Logan’s longest serving associates, Frank, while Shiv dabbles in political strategy, with an interest in working for a presidential candidate who stands for everything her father despises. The siblings are foul-mouthed – courtesy of Jesse Armstrong’s wickedly crude dialogue – and vicious. They do not appear close, but they know exactly what to say to bring out the worst in each other. Kendall is keen to point out Roman’s incompetency (‘You couldn’t get a job in a burger joint let alone a Fortune 500 without some nepotism’) while Roman is constantly pokes fun at Shiv for Logan’s lack of confidence in her (‘Are your nips hard? They must be, because you are so out in the cold’). Even in moments where it is clear that they support one another, or, at the very least, believe they might have some credibility, the siblings fail to show up for one another. When Kendall stages a vote of no confidence in Logan after arguing the case that he is no longer fit to continue as CEO, Roman lifts his arm as if to vote in favour. Yet it only takes one quip from Logan (‘You’d better be smelling your fucking armpit Romulus’) for him to put it back down. Clearly they have learned from the best, and Logan is not afraid to pit the siblings against one another, or in moments of desperation, to give them up as a ‘blood sacrifice’. The finales of each series prove there are always new ways to twist the knife, and Logan’s brutality is simultaneously grand and understated, ranging from blackmail in series one to threats of incarceration in series two. ‘What have you had your entire life that I didn’t give you?’ he tells Kendall, and there is an undeniable truth to what he says. The Roy children grew up and enjoy immense privilege, but there is cruelty in Logan wielding it against them. The greatest betrayal in the series is perhaps not found in specific moments, but in the sad fact that as Jeremy Strong, who plays Kendall, says – ‘hurt people hurt people’. The cycles of abuse that Logan and the Roy children perpetuate…will come back to this!
To outsiders of the Roy clan like Tom, Shiv’s devoted husband and Greg, a cousin treated more like a dog to kick than a relative, betrayal does not come naturally. The two form a ‘bond’ of sorts, finding that their interests align. Initially more for the benefit of Tom, long been treated as the Roy’s punching bag, he delights in finally being one-up on someone else in the family. ‘You need any help, seriously any help, any advice,’ he tells Greg on their first meeting, ‘just y’know, don’t fucking bother’. Yet it is clear that Tom’s connection to the Roys is far rockier than what he suggests to Greg. He and Shiv are considered something of an odd pairing (‘You’re marrying a man fathoms beneath you’ Logan tells Shiv) and the stability of their marriage is undermined by Shiv’s infidelity and her desire for an ‘open’ marriage, something she does not reveal until their wedding night. Consistently overlooked in favour of Kendall and Roman in spite of their personal and business misjudgements, Tom is assigned lesser roles in the company, first as head of Waystar’s amusement park and cruise division, and then as chairman of ATN, the news broadcasting company with a work environment about as toxic as the Roys’ relationships with one another. Neither of these roles give Tom the opportunity to climb the ranks of the company in the way he had hoped. Instead he finds himself in the ‘death pit’, taking the fall for the cover up of a cruise-line scandal from decades prior, something he had previously tried to destroy evidence of, courtesy of Greg. In scenes that are truly, eye-wateringly, embarrassing, we watch as the two of them crumble under investigation from the congressional judge as the scandal is brought to court. ‘What’s it like to be married to a man with two assholes?’ Shiv is asked, as the Roy family watch Tom struggle with the cross-examination. She has no response in her husband’s defence. Later, when Logan is contesting who ought to serve time in prison for the scandal, it is Shiv of all people who offers Tom up as bait in front of the entire family. Her implication that he is the obvious choice (‘It’s the elephant in the room, we can say that’) is so low, it is hard to believe she has even suggested it. Yet as with all relationships in ‘Succession’, even the ones where there is a kind of love, somewhere, betrayal feels inevitable. By this point in the series, Tom is so accustomed to humiliation that he does not even blink.
When news of Kendall’s plans to hold a vote of no-confidence in Logan reaches Tom in season one, he is thrilled by the possibility of elevation. ‘This time tomorrow’, he tells Greg, ‘I could be like, the third most important guy in the company. It’s the Storming of the Bastille, let them eat cake!’. He knows his place – he will never be a Roy with the safety-net that Kendall, Roman and Shiv enjoy – but equally, he wants a place at the table. When Logan offers Shiv the role of CEO in series two and she accepts, after swearing her indifference and promising Tom she would put his interests first, he is left with no option but to swallow his pride and feign excitement. ‘If I was CEO of Waystar,’ she says ‘I mean, you’re gonna be something huge!’. Yet Tom’s response is flat. ‘Like what?’ is all he can muster. By the end of series two, what would have reassured Tom a series prior rings hollow. ‘I won’t let anything happen to you’, she says, knowing she already has – and Tom knows it too. After three series of similar talk and no action – ‘What about me?’ he asks one last time in the finale, as if to give her one last shot at redemption – Tom does the thing we find we’ve been waiting for him to do all along: act like a Roy. And with his betrayal, it seems that Shiv and Tom’s marriage has finally become an equal playing field.
Kindness in Studio Ghibli
The stories that we tell and encounter often follow certain tropes, a noble hero set out to defeat an evil, often through its destruction. In childhood these stories shape how we see the world, informing our values and conduct. Ellie Stewart explores how the films of the animation studio Studio Ghibli invite us to encounter stories from a different angle, one of kindness and compassion, not simply towards those on the ‘good’ side but towards all of the characters.
Famous for their beautiful artistic style and nostalgic quality, many of the films made by the Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli are widely beloved by audiences across the world. These movies span many genres, however they are most often a combination of fantasy and a coming of age story. We watch as characters make mistakes, learn from them, and grow, navigating conflicts and developing their sense of self. A common trait in many of the films is the prevalence of kindness, forgiveness, and compassion as heroic acts and a means of resolution. The negative feelings of hatred and rage or vanity and greed are condemned, and it is the acts of love and empathy from the characters that allows for the resolution of the story. In these films, these themes are used to promote a sympathetic and caring existence where one is encouraged to let go of negative feelings and exist in harmony with others, the environment, and one's self.
This theme of kindness can be seen in the 1997 film Princess Mononoke, most immediately in its condemnation of hatred and violence. The movie follows a young prince called Ashitaka, as he attempts to bring peace between the spirits of the forest and a town that mines iron at the forest's detriment. Ashitaka first becomes involved with the conflict when his village is attacked by a demon, which, although he kills it, curses him with a mark that will spread and eventually kill him. He travels west in an attempt to find a cure, but becomes embroiled in the fighting between the spirits of wolves, boars, and apes and the humans that strip their forest’s resources. With the wolf spirits is a human girl that they raised called San who has vowed to kill the leader of the town, Lady Eboshi, and eventually is befriended by Ashitaka when he is healed by the spirit of the forest. After a battle between the boars and the townspeople, Eboshi and an opportunistic monk behead the forest spirit and attempt to bring the head to the emperor to give him immortality and cure those in Eboshi’s care. This results in the devastation of both the forest and the town at the hands of the spirit’s body until Ashitaka returns the head and the spirit dissipates, bringing life back into the forest and healing him of his curse.
Throughout the entirety of the story, Ashitaka endeavours to bring peace to the people that he comes in contact with, even as his curse, which feeds off of anger and hatred, attempts to make him harm people. The struggle that Ashitaka faces is the struggle that both sides of the conflict faced, the fight against vengeful and vindictive emotions as they threatened to corrupt and destroy their hosts. The film invites you to empathise with all of the characters; the spirits and Sen hold hatred for humans as they destroyed their home and way of life for personal gain, while Eboshi is stripping the land partially out of ambition, and partially in order to protect those in her care, lepers and brothel workers. The spirits of the forest itself becomes a character to relate to, encouraging a respect for not just the humans in the story but the other living things as well. By the end of the film San has relinquished her quest for revenge only partly fulfilled, and Eboshi says she will rebuild the town better, abandoning her greed. Like the curse slowly killing Ashitaka, the hatred and greed that they both felt would have only led to their destruction, and nearly did. Only through the heroic acts of self sacrifice and love made by Ashitaka were they saved.
Similarly, the 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle also focuses on kindness and forgiveness, both to the characters themselves and to others. This film follows a hat maker named Sophie as she travels with the wizard Howl and his demon Calcifer and tries to break a curse placed on her that turned her into an old woman, all against the backdrop of a country at war. Throughout the movie it is shown that kindness and love have the ability to nullify negative traits and heal those who come in contact with it. It quickly becomes clear that Howl is extremely vain and somewhat of a coward, which is aided by the fact that Calcifer is in possession of his heart. This self centeredness is rectified only through love and compassion towards others, as Sophie’s kindness and his love for her gives him the courage to stand against that which he was running from. It is through his love for Sophie and her love for him that Howl is able to be reunited with his heart and made whole again. Similarly when the witch who cursed Sophie is stripped of her powers and reverted to her true age, Sophie cares for her. This kindness counteracts her greed, and she is no longer able to cause harm. Even when she attempts to steal Howl's heart, she gives it back at Sophie’s request, demonstrating the effect of Sophie’s compassion. Even the war that the country is in is solved by love in the end, as Sophie expresses kindness towards an animated scarecrow which turned out to be the prince of the opposing nation and eventually inadvertently breaks his curse by kissing him.
Furthermore, raised with a beautiful mother and sister, it's very clear that Sophie has developed insecurities about how she looks, and this is reflected in how the curse that was placed on her manifests. When she is unconfident and being hard on herself she presents as an old woman, however in moments of love for others and courage, she presents as young again. It is only through her kindness to herself and her love for others that she is able to lift the curse, demonstrating that her change in mindset and attention away from herself and towards those she cares about is what finally allowed her to be happy. A similar theme is presented in the 2003 film Kiki’s Delivery Service when Kiki, a young witch who runs a delivery service on her broom, briefly loses her powers as a result of burning out from working too hard and losing her confidence. After this problem presents itself she takes a much needed break from working, and eventually comes to a point of happiness. Her powers are only able to return when she is confident and kind to herself once again as she rushes to rescue her friend from a blimp mishap. Like Sophie, it is the acceptance of herself as well as love for those around her that allows her to come to a resolution.
In their exploration of the themes of kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, many Studio Ghibli films encourage the viewer to examine their interactions with the natural environment, other people, and themselves. We are urged to relinquish negative feelings and methods in favour of the expressions of love that are portrayed in the films. Missions of vengeance, greed, and vanity are laid down as they are shown to be harmful to everyone involved, and the healing practices of forgiveness and kindness are adopted. We are shown that although it is easy to be angry or selfish, it is only through these acts of love and respect that we will be able to begin to mend ourselves and others.
A Royal Obsession
Emily Garrow discusses the connection between Netflix’s own films concerning royalty and why people might watch them, with particular interest in The Royal Treatment. Warning: there are spoilers ahead.
Image: What's on Netflix
Deciding what to watch on TV is a recurring obstacle for me. Should I put on Miranda again or should I attempt to find something new? As challenges in life go, this is an easy one to have but something that bothers me nonetheless.
It was late at night with a weather forecast of flying wheelie bins and roofing slates when I set myself up for another duel with Netflix. No, I don’t want to watch recommended content based off that terrible film I barely started. No, I don’t want you to choose for me. Eventually, I cast down my rapier and submitted to the Netflix movie The Royal Treatment which the streaming service had been hurling my way every opportunity it had. A prince, a job, and potential love. Its description sounded familiar but I couldn’t quite place why.
Released January 20th 2022, The Royal Treatment follows Izzy (Laura Marano) who is contacted accidentally to cut the hair of Prince Thomas of Lavania (Mena Massoud). Izzy’s forthright personality charms the prince and motivates him to offer her and her friends the job of hair stylists for his upcoming wedding, as one does. During their time together, Izzy shows Thomas what he misses by following everyone else’s advice through her confident attitude. They become close and questions of loyalty or romance are offhandedly thrown about.
It was at the beginning of the film when the fictional country Aldovia was mentioned that I realised what was causing me to have a strong case of déjà vu: A Christmas Prince, set in Aldovia, had a very similar storyline and was also a Netflix original. Once that thought was in my head, I remembered that another series of Netflix Christmas films, The Princess Switch, had also been linked to A Christmas Prince. Three stories. Three princes. Three women trying to further their careers. Despite having been written by different people, they essentially follow the same framework. Let me sketch it out for you:
A hard-working woman from the city is given a one of a kind opportunity to travel to another country to prove her talent in her industry. Naturally, this country has a monarchy including a charismatic but flawed prince who needs to be shown the true value of life. However, there’s only one person who is capable of such a task and (as you’ve probably guessed) it’s the optimistic protagonist. There’s a castle; a little town; the lead’s enthusiastic best friends; the royal family’s spirited assistants; and a handful of children to show how caring the main character is. In the end, the prince and the lead realise they are meant to be together regardless of their differences in social status and everyone is happy.
The simple format makes the films easy to watch but undeniably predictable. If you wince at the slightest cliché then I suggest you don’t put these movies on. However, if you’re looking for something upbeat to distract yourself from life’s responsibilities without having to think too much, these movies will suffice.
In each film, several made-up countries are named, each with a monarchy: Aldovia and Penglia in A Christmas Prince trilogy; Belgravia and Montenaro in The Princess Switch trilogy; and Lavania in The Royal Treatment. The apparent logic of Netflix seems to be if a country ends in ‘ia’ then it must have a royal family (the sole exception being Montenaro). These countries hold the basis of activity and are crucial because without them there would be no princes for the protagonist to fall in love with. The ties mentioned between the countries across the movies creates an alternate geography of reality which could be leading to an entire world of Netflix royalty in the future. But what provoked the company to devise such a network that is likely to be in expectation of additional royal films?
With a score of 5.2/10 on IMDb, The Royal Treatment isn’t exactly highly rated. Regardless, its association and similarities with A Christmas Prince and The Princess Switch implies there is a demand for these films. Whether it was constructed from audience data or reviews, the need for further narratives of this nature has led to a generation of endless renditions of the same plot. A plot where an average citizen meets a prince and becomes a princess by the end. Resemble anything familiar?
When I was little I read Hans Christian Andersen and the brothers Grimm and watched an assortment of movie adaptations. I wanted to be a princess when I grew up, like the ones I saw on the page or screen. I’m certain many people will have similar memories of castles and magic filling up their early childhood, prompting dreams of becoming a part of it one day. The series of Netflix royalty brings these scenarios into the present-day with a protagonist who is an intendedly relatable individual who happens to fall in love with a prince. In essence, these films are modern fairy tales.
Making the stories relative to our own lives is furthered by opening the films in real places: New York in A Christmas Prince and The Royal Treatment; Chicago in The Princess Switch. By having the initial setting in an existence recognisable as our own, the circumstances of the plot almost seem achievable; a ‘if it could happen to them it could happen to me’ sort of mindset forms, at least for the duration of the movie. It suggests that fairy tales can happen to anyone. The following shift to the fictional countries for the main action to take place causes a separation from what we know as reality and the reality within the films. It is comparable to fairy tale characters leaving their normality when their adventure starts but makes it marginally more realistic by insinuating it is the same dimension as our own; there is no barrier of logic preventing us from accepting the events. The introduction of fictional countries, therefore, enforces that the movies are a fantasy after having grabbed the viewer’s attention with places they are familiar with, all the while maintaining a quality of semi-authenticity.
At the outset there is a sense of wonder surrounding nobility and their lifestyles which is withdrawn later when their financial problems and their inexperience of what the world is like are revealed. Their troubles underline that we are supposed to view them as imperfect and not an unrealistic ideal person and we should appreciate what we gain from being the average citizen. These flaws also allow the central female character to ‘save’ the prince in a reversal to the standard fables we grew up with where the prince saves the princess. This switch gives a more contemporary feel to the movies but retains a kind of whimsy in the theme of an everyday person becoming royalty.
Overall, The Royal Treatment met my expectations for its genre: it was lighthearted, uncomplicated, and ended in romance. It differed slightly from its predecessors by having Prince Thomas leave his life behind for Izzy rather than the other way round and leaving it uncertain whether she became a princess or not. The message it gave was that we shouldn’t be striving for the classic fairy tale ending with castles and jewels because attaining happily ever after comes from love not titles.
These films are fundamentally a collection of rom-coms blended with updated traditional fairy tales of princes and princesses. Are they cringey? Undoubtedly. Will I continue watching them? Probably. I am unashamedly curious to see what Netflix adds to this royal franchise next.