Not rated, but this is again a movie about being a bummer as opposed to anything offensive in the movie. Like, you could show it to your kids. But that only leads to kids having existential crises as opposed to leading a life of crime or having potty mouths. This also super assumes that you could get your kids to watch a very slow movie full of subtitles. This isn't a challenge. Just put on Paw Patrol on the garbage TV as you watch the 4K Criterion of a movie that moves at a snail's pace.
DIRECTOR: Satyajit Ray
So the message is to never leave the people you love alone for two minutes? I'm pretty sure that Satyajit Ray is telling us that our loved ones are going to die if I trust them to leave the house for two seconds. SPOILERS: If you've read my other reviews, you know that death and dealing with death is a common motif for this trilogy, so I guess I should explore that a bit more. But Apu might have the worst luck in the world. Everyone he knows and loves dies when they leave the house for five seconds. The world must be a terrible place for this to continually happen to him.
Now that the series is over, I don't know what to think. These movies are absolutely beautiful. It's odd that I'm watching a monochromatic Indian film because I can't help but look at the environment and reflect on how I've seen it portrayed in other films. India is such an interesting setting for film because its simultaneous beauty and its overwhelming poverty. That poverty always is front and center in the Apu movies. I mentioned that Ray wants to bum out his audience because there's nothing that is fundamentally great about Apu's life. It's really The Book of Job set in India. This is what, I suppose, that I want to explore in this review. I'm not even going to read my other reviews in the trilogy because I might be backpeddling a bit. You can do that and post in the comments, but I do want to explore the nature of suffering. The World of Apu (Sorry, it's easier for me to type) is perhaps the most Western in the series in terms of narrative. This movie has a much more concrete beginning, middle, and end as opposed to the previous films. The other films are simply character explorations. The World of Apu also delves pretty deeply into character exploration, but there is at least a little bit of story going on here. With the change in format, I kind of feel compelled to summarize the plot a bit. (I'm aware that only some of my readers have an intimate knowledge of every Criterion entry). Apu has grown up. He is still poor, but he is writing. He drops out of school because he cannot afford to stay when his friend invites him to a wedding. In a crazy random happenstance, the groom gets heat stroke and cannot marry the bride. Apu, being an eligible bachelor, steps in for the groom because the bride would not be able to marry anyone outside of the designated time. (I learned new things, guys!) The middle part of the movie is their relationship and how it goes from being strained to flourishing. Because this movie is part of the Apu trilogy, the bride dies during childbirth while visiting her parents. The final third of the movie is Apu roaming the wilderness, afraid of meeting his child. Kind of a bummer. But that at least is a story!
I don't know what to feel about suffering in these movies. In the first two films, Apu is almost a spectator to his own suffering. He is often too young to understand the full ramifications of these deaths. It is only with the death of his mother in the previous entry that the death becomes personal to him. But that is also an act of selfishness that makes him connected to that death. In this film, Apu's relationship with death is through no fault of his own. He deals with insecurities in a very realistic way and tries to be the best husband he can be. He has abandoned many of those immature habits of his younger self and strives to give his wife all that he can. She dies, like in reality, unexpectedly. With the case of his mother's death, the responsibility to his family is what tears him apart. Rather, this story follows the victim of Apu. I mentioned that I can't help but think of Job. Job does not deserve the misery and Apu has no way to grasp this level of misery. The meandering in the wilderness for years (5? 10?) is not really shown, but it feels like Apu questioning God. The only thing we have insight into is his sadness and the fact that he has abandoned his own life, flinging his precious manuscript away. He has stripped away anything that made him the little boy of the past two films and is almost a husk of his former self. That is where the interesting parallel of his own son comes into play. I don't know if India is exclusively made of suffering, but I get that vibe. His son, whom he doesn't meet until he is five or ten (I'm really bad at understanding this), is rebellious and lives with his grandfather. His grandfather doesn't really seem to love his grandson, but that might be my interpretation based on how brief that sequence is. I do like the idea that the end of the trilogy introduces a child to mirror the rebellious Apu from the first film. That kid also has had a life of tragedy that he can't possibly understand. His mother has never been in his life due to her death and he believes his father to be a strongman from Calcutta. The entry of Apu into his son's life is somewhat heartbreaking because it just shows how not ready Apu is to entering his old role. It takes the husk to begin reanimating to make the story come together.
Again, this is a real bummer of a movie, but like the others in the trilogy, the movie ends with a bit of a silver lining. I have to belief that Ray is an optimist. He knows that terrible things are going to happen (I seem to be backpeddling already!), but that is not a cause for despondency. I suppose, then, that the Apu Trilogy are morality tales. Apu is not a saint. In fact, there are times --realistic times even --that Apu does things that make you want to scream. There are poor choices, but Apu never becomes full on evil. He processes in his own way. Abandoning his son for five years is pretty crappy of him, but that choice comes from a misunderstanding rather than an active avoidance of his son. (Okay, he does actively avoid his son, but there is something oddly innocent about that choice. I'm not saying it is right, but I don't think Apu really gets the logic of his presence.) This child, from Apu's perspective, is imaginary. He even says so. He has never met that child and feels no attachment to him. It is in the arrival of his friend that he even begins to grasp his sin. I find it odd that Ray doesn't let us see too much of Apu's moral crisis. The movie is very slow and there is very little plot. It's weird that we don't see him debating this decision to wander the wilderness. But it kind of works because all of this philosophizing that I'm doing is because I have to speculate based on what little data I have what must have been going through Apu's noggin. I get the vibe that he thinks that his son must be better off without him. I wonder if Apu considers himself a curse on the world around him. Every member of his family dies before their time. Okay, grandma died at a very old age, but he was involved in that death too. What if he is not coming home because he worries, albeit ridiculously, that he will only cause his son t suffer that same fate? Heck, I was wondering it. It felt like Ray was just creating his son make Apu even more miserable. But it was toward the end of the movie and I luckily guessed that Ray isn't that much of a masochist.
The movie is weirdly beautiful in a deeply melancholy way. I can't help but compare Apu to Antoine Doinel. I watched him grow up and become his father. The movies are bummers and I don't know how many times I can watch them, but I am super glad that I have seen them. They seem almost therapeutic for Ray, even though he is only adapting someone else's novels. But that therapy is conveyed in what he does on screen. I don't know if they would help me deal with death, but that's not always what it is about.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.