Wednesday, July 28, 2004

The Human Stain

I'll start out with an honest opinion: Meh.

I've never been able to get through much of Philip Roth's oeuvre. He's one of those few east coast, upper literary establishment types that I've never been able to decode with much success. He just doesn't move me. Even a soft-core porn novel like Portnoy's Complaint with vivid scenes of copulating with the liver destined for dinner the next day (and putting it back in the fridge after it's been used) and ejaculate shattering a lightbulb in the bathroom managed to be dry and inaccessible for me. The Ghost Writer is one of the very few novels I've abandoned midway, which was something I almost never did back in the day where I felt obligated to finish any book I started (age and wisdom have drained that silliness from me). The way some people string words together just does not work for you, no matter how good a writer everyone else says they are.

Still, though, when someone has been praised as much as Roth has, I feel I should continue to give him the odd re-try, because perhaps I've aged enough to appreciate him or have come upon new insights that might have drawn our worlds closer together. So I picked up The Human Stain at the library once. I will give Roth this much credit: he invariably invokes within me my inner octogenarian who falls asleep in the Easyboy in mid-sentence. A spot-read of random paragraphs throughout left me dazed and somnambulant. I put it back on the shelf before I hurt myself or others.

However, I mentally earmarked a viewing of the eventual movie, knowing I could perhaps persist through two hours of passive intake of the premise, which sounded interesting. A prof. is accused of racism because he uses a word where one of its many alternate meanings is a derogatory term for someone black, that being "spook." (Echoing the real-life fiasco that made rounds in the media where someone used the word "niggardly" to describe something, and since it's so close to the verboten word, idjits in more than a few places pointed and screamed like Donald Sutherland at the end of Invasion of the Body Snatchers even though a casual glance at a dictionary would show that "niggardly" has no etymological connection to the other dreaded term, and even predates it.) So said prof. gets fired and his life goes to shambles when he takes refuge in the vagina of a woman with so much baggage that a herd of Sherpas would refuse to carry it from one end of a completely level parking lot to the other. The bitter irony is that said prof. is really black himself and has been posing as a white person since college. The end.

Anthony Hopkins was cast as the prof. and Nicole Kidman as the vagina. (Please forgive the indelicacy of this characterization if you can, but I feel it's true to Roth's general portrayal of women. He can't seem to get past their pink parts (e.g. The Breast), which is another reason his fiction bores me.) Hopkins is always interesting and serves the role well, and thus makes the movie watchable. I personally have a problem with Kidman; I've never liked her and she's on the short list with Liza Minnelli and Mickey Rooney of actors who completely ruin a movie for me. I just can't get past my dislike of them. I also don't think she can act, but since my bias is so strong, I will disqualify myself from useful judgment thereof. So her being cast as a skank worked for me.

I found the movie somewhat tedious aside from the bright points offered by Hopkins. And Ed Harris once again proves how versatile he is. I bet most casual movie viewers won't even recognize him as the same guy who played John Glenn in The Right Stuff and Christof (the "creator") in The Truman Show. Oh, and full-frontal nudity always helps hoist a dismal movie for about ten minutes, and this movie has one of the more gratuitous examples I've ever seen, but I still doubt it would get Joe Bob Briggs to watch the flick.

So, if the topic intrigues you, and you can rent it from the $1 racks (or see it free by getting it from the library - and you know since it's Roth the libraries will carry it), by all means, it's worth two hours of your time. Otherwise, Hellboy is finally out!

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