Margin: Exploring Modern Magical 

Realism

MINI REVIEWS ~ Winter 2004

Category: Feature Film
WHALE RIDER

© 2002, rated PG-13
Directed by Niki Caro
101 minutes

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Comments: If magical realism is about contemporizing living myths, then Whale Rider is pure MR.

All the elements of a rich magical realist tale unfold in this film: the ongoing fable of a chosen or marked One, the everyday communion between man and nature, the presence of miracles. This is a beautifully enacted and filmed movie, with a trueness to the cultural realities of New Zealand's Maori culture to give it that sense of awe so often missing in North American films that fail to pull off magical realism. This film reminds me quite a bit of The Secret of Roan Inish in terms of atmosphere, subject matter and beauty. For a truly enchanting family evening of magical realist film, I suggest you rent both and have a double feature popcorn party.

I saw this while my kids were at (elementary) school and wonder if I should have just taken them with me. PG-13 is perhaps a little strict a rating for Whale Rider. While there is a small amount of violence, some emotionally intense scenes that imbue the film with its magic, and a very brief reference to marijuana, I still think that the film holds a timeless appeal that could enrich the imaginations of older school-aged children (under age 13). (In contrast, how many preschoolers did I see at the Lord of the Rings' PG-13 films that should not have been there?)

The DVD and VHS versions of Whale Rider were released in late October 2003. Check out this quiet beauty, if you haven't already.

Category: Feature Film
BIG FISH

© 2003, rated PG-13
Directed by Tim Burton
110 minutes

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Comments: I remember putting together a promotional campaign for MARGIN that included colorful little take-away postcards that read, variously: REALITY IS A FISH STORY, or, REALITY IS A WIVE'S TALE, or, REALITY IS A SPUN YARN. Naturally, I was compelled to see Tim Burton's latest creation, Big Fish, because it suggests a similar attitude, no? I came away from the film wishing not only to see it again, but to read the original book.

There were many of the necessarily magical realist elements in the film for it to live up to its suggestive name. This truly is the story of a man worthy of tall tales: a man who not only told them, but who lived them, and who is ultimately remembered by them. Scenes at the end suggesting that last aspect are quite lovely and left a tear in my eye, I'll admit.

Aspects of the fabulous appear throughout the movie: the main character, Edward Bloom, is inducted into a circus, for instance, at the beginning of his young adult life. There's his discovery of a hidden idyllic town at the end of a haunted forest maze, and the predictions of a local witch come true. What's more, he encounters giant people, giant fish, mermaids, Siamese twin entertainers, lycanthropes with lawyers, and an utterly believable metamorphosis at the end (believable because of the context).

I liked the beauty of the film, the humor, the nonlinear storyspinning structure (which even the main character, Bloom, points out is "better" than a story told straight). I also really liked the way that it continuously reminded me of Gabo's One Hundred Years of Solitude for its matter-of-fact acceptance of the strange and otherworldly. This movie has been described as fantasy, and yes, it is that for the literally minded, but for fans of magical realism, it's definitely grounded in the reality of a solitary human being who could not be anything else but a storyteller (shades of García Márquez, again).

For romantics, fabulists, and those who enjoy the stuff of legends, this film is for you. If you take everything literally and crave nothing but realism, don't bother going. You'll think it's ridiculous. Me, I was in my element, and only wish I could wake up to find my front yard in complete daffodyllic blossom. Oh, to dream.

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Rev'd 2004/01/16