The Monk: Re-imagining the Gothic Classic

Poster for The MonkOne of my favorite areas of reading is the gothic, and Matthew Gregory’s The Monk is one of the prime examples of this genre. So, I was very interested to see how this book would be portrayed on film.

NOTE: There are spoilers below, so if you don’t know the story and don’t want to before you read or watch it, you should probably stop reading now.

The Monk stars Vincent Cassell as Capucine Ambrosio. Ambrosio was abandoned on the doorstep of the monastery as a baby and raised by the order. Eventually, he becomes well-known for his sermons, which tend to cause sinners to repent in droves. He is known as a paragon of the faith, which makes his downfall that much more dramatic. When he finds out that a young nun initiate, who has come to him for confession and advice, has lost her virtue, he cannot find it in his heart to feel empathy for her. As a result, he leaves his heart open for sinful temptation, and it begins in a big way. A mysterious stranger, Valerio, appears at the monastery, face covered by a mask due to a horrific accident. Ambrosio himself argues that they should allow the unfortunate man to stay. Later, it is revealed to Ambrosio that Valerio is actually a woman in disguise, a woman so in love with him that she contrived the whole situation simply to be near him. She seduces him, in a fairly clear case of date rape, and then continues to screw with his head via some supernatural craziness. In contrast to her character is that of Antonia, a virginal and devout young girl who asks Ambrosio to come to her home and pray and speak with her ill mother. Ambrosio becomes obsessed with Antonia, and things just generally devolve from there.

Josephine Japy and Vincent Cassell in The Monk

There were many aspects of the movie that were not in the book. However, I thought that it was done well and that it was a good portrayal of the overall intent of the story. Ambrosio is proud and righteous, and as such he makes himself an easy target. There are several instances where he does not have control, such as when the stranger contrives to have him poisoned – a situation that leaves him drugged and defenseless toward her sexual attack. This scene is disturbing, but the result of that scene – Ambrosio’s awakened lust – creates the true complexity of the situation. He is only in this situation due to his lack of feeling for a girl who made a mistake, a mistake based in love for another human being. In some ways he is a sympathetic character, but his behavior continues to digress, and in the end we are almost as shocked as he is to understand how far he has fallen.

Favorite things about this movie:

  • Vincent Cassell – he plays conflicted characters well, and I have always found his interpretations of brutality or lust, the base emotions, to be interesting and on point.
  • The cinematograpy – the colors, and choice of settings are gorgeous, especially some of the scenes in the graveyard and those in the courtyard during the day. The use of red is done particularly well.
  • The way the story was adapted. I liked the changes that were made, which gave it a better flow from the novel. It’s not often that I say that I like the movie better, but in this case I definitely enjoyed the reinterpretation.

I liked this movie and would definitely recommend it if you are a fan of the gothic novel. It holds true to the intent and feeling of this genre.

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Only Lovers Left Alive: My Pick for Best Movie of the Year

Poster for Only Lovers Left AliveI love Jim Jarmusch’s work, and Only Lovers Left Alive definitely didn’t disappoint. The main characters of the movie are Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton), two very old vampires who are trying to make it in the 21st century. The pair are married, but are living separately when the movie begins – Adam in Detroit and Eve in Tangiers. These two characters are nicely juxtaposed. Adam is dark, brooding, and everything around him is portrayed as such from his hair and clothes to the old, dilapidated home he inhabits. Eve is light, positive, and everything around her reflects this from her semi-dreaded white-blonde hair and light tan suede pants and jacket, to her home’s New Age decor. Adam has an obsession with music and instruments. He is an elusive musician whose compositions appear on the down low, and who has worked with other artists over the years – Schubert, for example. Eve has the skill of knowing things through touch. She can read a book by running her fingers over the pages, or touch a guitar and tell how old it is and everything about it. She can read people this way, too. Added to the mix of these two main characters is an elderly vampire who is no other than Kit Marlowe (John Hurt), writer of the plays attributed to Shakespeare, and supplier of Eve’s blood diet in Tangiers. Blood supply is important to these two, and Adam gets his through an arrangement with a local hospital. This is a humorous situation, since he has not quite adapted to the new century yet, and he shows up to retrieve his blood in scrubs, operating mask, sunglasses, and sporting the name tag: Dr. Faust.

Adam and Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive

The overall plot of the movie is the relationship between Adam and Eve, which is tested by the appearance of Eve’s sister, Ava, a younger vampire who’s into partying and boys. Ava has a history of making life impossible and Adam is not a fan. She once again causes problems with her appearance, sending Adam and Eve on the run, and ultimately putting them in the position of having to start over again on their own. However, it is unlikely that this duo is going to have any problem getting on with things – a better pair I’ve never seen.

Adam and Eve on the couch in Only Lovers Left Alive

Jarmusch always has the best quirky things in his films! Some of my favorites in this one were

  • The many references to Tesla accompanied by Adam’s skill in creating machines: a car engine that doesn’t require gas, and lighting the house using a generator that pulls electricity from the atmosphere.
  • The cool, grungy, hipness with which the underground scene is depicted. Adam and Eve always wear sunglasses at night. Leather, mussed hair, and a decadence reflected in décor and lifestyle are everywhere. For these vampires, Type O- is like a drug, and when they drink they do so with the savoring of a heroin addict shooting up.
  • Ian, played by Anton Yelchin, who is Adam’s go-to human and brings him rare and beautiful instruments or procures any odd item that Adam might want. Ian has a great personality in that kind of eager, young star-seeking way.
  • Adam’s endless supply of cash. He has lots of rubber banded wads of cash that he will just pull out of a pocket, seemingly with no regard for how much he is handing out.
  • Eve’s tons and tons of books. There are stacks and piles, and scenes of her falling asleep in the middle of them. If I was a vampire, my house would look like this.
  • The settings of both Detroit and Tangiers. Dark, destitute, decrepit, cityscapes. Detroit is bare of people for the most part, while Tangiers is home to the drug scene, winding alleys, stone staircases, and cafes that appear in the middle of nowhere.
  • The music. Adam’s music is haunting and dark, beautiful. I would definitely listen to this. The music by the girl in Tangiers, though is an unbelievably cool touch. Through her you can see Adam glimpsing the precursor for a new start to his compositions, a new turn to take, a twist that will fit with this change of locale.
  • The ending scene.

Whether you are a Jarmusch fan, a vampire fan, or just love Hiddleston and Swinton, you have to watch this movie! Go get it now!

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