S1: This ad free podcast is part of your Slate Plus membership. I’m Stephen Metcalf, and this is the Slate Culture Gabfest Crushing Responsibility Edition. It’s Wednesday, January 19th, 2022. On today’s show, we’re going to discuss The Lost Daughter. It’s a feature film on Netflix. It’s an adaptation of Elena Ferrante, novel stars Olivia Colman, and of course, I think most people know it’s the directorial debut of the actress Maggie Gyllenhaal. And then we’re talking about a network show that’s a red letter week for the culture Gabfest. We don’t do it very often. This one is Abbott Elementary. It’s a mockumentary sitcom about a Philly public school. It’s created by and stars Quinta Brunson. And finally, yeah, OK, your spelling bee addiction. It’s killing you slowly. Well, also no longer giving you the old high. Well, I have some good news for you. Someone has invented Wordle. We discuss the latest smart set word game. Joining me today is Julia Turner. Hey, Julia, hello, hello. Julia, of course you are the deputy managing editor of The L.A. Times and you joined me from Los Angeles. And of course, Dana Stevens is the film critic of Slate Dana. I am keening with FOMO right now because you are where
S2: I am in Los Angeles, California.
S1: And what did you do last night?
S2: Not to rub it in, but I spent hours and hours in the company of one Julia Turner. I met her new baby. We had dinner together. We talked for hours. We split a bottle of wine. And you weren’t there. I pretend to be rubbing it in. But in fact, we missed you and it would have been great if you were there. That will bring this a little closer to being an in-person Gabfest
S1: that’s pretending to rub it in Dana. I would
S3: hate to know what your fuck
S1: at a game is there. Oh my god. OK, before we flow into the show proper Dana. What are you doing in Los Angeles?
S2: Stephen I am here because I was blown up by my publisher because I’m fancy to do an interview with none other than Marc Maron. I’m going to be on his podcast sometime in the next couple of weeks talking about my Buster Keaton book.
S1: You know, I do have this picture in my head that I get to, you know, sort of savor as I try to make a show with my two x friends, which is
S1: Julia Turner Maron. Maybe there’s Andy Warhol or Basquiat there as well, and you’re all throwing your head backs and laughing, you know, the the cigarettes poised between your index and middle finger,
S2: and Steve is breathing on the frosted glass to make a little hole with his sleeve to look in on us?
S3: I no for us, because we’re all out in L.A., is this
S2: metaphorical for us? Julia Dwight Garner us Julia.
S1: I can honestly say I got your frost right here. All right. Shall we make a show?
S3: Please, please. Yes. Okay.
S1: Lindsay Young Metcalf All right. The feature film The Lost Daughter, it’s now on Netflix. It’s the directorial debut of Maggie Gyllenhaal. She’s best known as an actress. I suspect she will be very well known as a direct tryst going forward. This one is based on a novella by Elena Ferrante, of course, the great Ferrante. It stars the ever estimable Olivia Colman as Lead US. She’s an academic, a literary scholar. We can safely assume she’s affiliated with Harvard. She says, I live in Cambridge, outside Boston demurely, but we know what that means. She’s on holiday alone on a small Greek island surrounding her solitude, interrupting her solitude as another family. They’re loud, flashy, boisterous, multigenerational, intrusive, and they’re both intrigued and suspicious of leaders of partners an apparent refinement. Something about the sight of their little children, in turn, makes lead a flashback to her own kids. And over and over we go back and forth between the present tense and twenty years ago, back to lead his own apparently agonized experience of motherhood, an experience that plainly traumatized her and she lives with guiltily to this day. Both stories come into focus kind of in parallel to one another of a mafia or mafia adjacent family’s inner politics, an implied capacity for violence and leaders own back story of maternal abandonment and shame. Present day leaders played, as I said by Coleman. Flashback lead, meanwhile, is played by Jessie Buckley. The movie also stars Dakota Johnson, Ed Harris and Hank Alert. Paul Mescal, Mr. Phoebe Bridgers. Let’s listen to a clip. Dana can you? Can you set this one up for us?
S2: All right. So in this scene, you’re going to hear the voices of Olivia Colman and Paul Mescal, who I only just now realised when you said it, Steve is Mr. Phoebe Bridgers. I’m agog at that little bit of gossip. You’ll hear them sitting at an outdoor cafe on the Greek island where she’s vacationing and he works and they’re talking about her daughters.
S3: Your kids are my age.
S4: Yeah. Twenty five and twenty three, Bianca, Martha.
S3: And do they look like you?
S4: I tell her, it’s hard to say. If I’m honest, I probably do,
S3: because you’re beautiful. Mm hmm. It’s not like. My mother was five years old,
S4: and when I was about Martha’s age, I felt like she hadn’t shared it back in creating. We should separate it herself like pushing a plate away if the food’s repulsive. Mm hmm. But Bianca Martha, it’s funny. What I find most interesting are the secret resemblances. It. So what makes Bianca seductive and Martha not and vice versa while they blame me?
S1: Dana, you know, directorial debuts by people who are otherwise known or had a, you know, really quite storied career as actors or actresses is sort of a dicey proposition. They maybe want to play a little too much with the camera, let the viewer know you’re there. This is also very tricky material. It’s a really excruciatingly painful psychological novel being brought to the screen with a lot of interior life to it. How did Maggie Gyllenhaal do here? What do you think?
S2: I mean, many apparently contradictory things to feel and to say about this movie. First of all, I definitely think if people are interested in, you know, Ferrante or and Gyllenhaal or in Colman, there’s so much going on in this movie that makes it worth watching. Unlike a lot of critics, though, I mean, I know some critics, including some good friends of mine, had this on their top 10 list. They raved about it. They thought it was one of those straight out of the gate perfect debuts. And while I agree, it’s a very exciting debut for Maggie Gyllenhaal and as you say, it’s it’s an actor’s directorial debut can always be dicey. What I often find, rather than being directorial, is show off, as you mentioned, is that they can be just overly acting focused, right? I mean, if you’ve always experienced making movies from that side of the camera and what you’re supposed to do is give a good performance, there can be almost like a hamming is encouraged or something. That is certainly not the case with this movie. And I and I can’t wait to see what Maggie Gyllenhaal does next. I completely regard her now as like a legitimate, important director. But no, I don’t think this movie is perfect and I really want to get into with you guys some of the things that I think are a little raggedy around the edges about it, which have to do. I think in some ways with translating whatever is going on in the page Ferrante’s novel to the screen, and that has to do with the regionality having been changed. Read this no longer takes place in Italy, which is obviously a really important point in Ferrante’s work. And and so it’s now about a woman born in England, but who lives in the U.S., who’s visiting a Greek island and speaking mainly with Americans or this Irish guy. Right. So it’s this kind of trans national scene instead of the very regional and as with the Neapolitan novel sort of Sicilian based spaces that Ferrante’s novels take place. And I think that kind of harms it. The ending, which we’ll get into in our Slate Plus segment today, is extremely ambiguous. So much so that I’m not sure that this movie quite ever came into focus. For me, there were many exciting moments as it unfolded. But in the end, I wasn’t quite sure what I came away with, and some people love that. I know that there are people who love to walk out of a movie scratching their head in that precise way. And as much as I love an ambiguous ending, I also want to know why I saw the movie and what it was trying to say about the themes that it’s about, which in the case of this movie, are motherhood, loneliness, and we can talk about what some of the some of the other ones are. Anyway, I guess my short thumbnail response would be like fantastic bunch of interesting ideas thrown out there. Not sure that it all completely cohere is but exciting debut nonetheless.
S1: Yeah. Julia listening to Dana, it occurs to me that Maggie Gyllenhaal set not only one bar extremely high, adapting a very literary, very psychological novel to the screen. She set herself another. I mean, you could argue nearly impossible bar to hurdle, which is telling the story of someone who’s been a bad mother or could could discover to her own horror that she was capable of being a bad or neglectful mother in one interpretation. In some ways, maybe she was an extraordinary mother. A very, very hard thing to make sympathetic. How do you think she did with these two hurdles?
S5: I liked this movie a lot, and I see what you’re saying, Dana, that perhaps not everything was completely uncaring, but Olivia Colman buys you a lot of give like just watching Olivia Colman luxuriate in the complexity of this performance and then watching Maggie Gyllenhaal camera as she takes in Coleman’s particular mix of vim and ambition, intellect and motherly ness and on mother ness like that. Dyad is so intriguing and so complicated and gives you so much to think about that the weaknesses of the rest of the movie didn’t bother me particularly, and I will say it’s it’s incredibly tense. I mean, part of why it’s so effective and part of what is so effective about it is that, you know, it’s fundamentally a movie about like a middle aged lady remembering her daughters and kind of moping ambivalently about the choices she’s made in her life. But like through various small machinations about a lost doll and a falling pine cone and you know, whether somebody is going to see what’s been left on the skinny, rickety metal table on the terrace, like every scene is full of like suspense and tension and drama like just when you, you know, I was not necessarily looking forward to this because I was like, Oh, OK, yeah, interesting ambivalence. Probably something horrible happens to somebody along the way, you know, and it it plays like a thriller almost in this really, really intriguing, surprising, great way. It moves pretty quickly for being about what it what it is about yet.
S1: Julia I’m with you on this one. I feared for the worst going in for the first, maybe five minutes, 10 minutes. I was very skeptical and then I became over time, entirely captivated by this movie. And I’ll use the L word. I loved it. I really did love this movie for a lot of reasons. I mean, not only is Olivia Colman face and person a, you know, a mirror to her character’s soul, I mean, she knows how to use those instruments to perfection, and therefore she’s uniquely qualified to play someone who’s, you know, the, you know, who’s carrying the action of the movie mostly in her pain and suppressed or unexpressed pain. She’s terrific at that. It’s in short, it’s very adult about how people, especially semi strangers thrown together, get to know one another, caught one another surreptitiously turn on one another very suddenly, you know, and and it’s very adult about the fact that some people in the world actually do make their living professionally vis-a-vis literature. It’s one of the front is very good Dana at depicting that world as if it’s real and important, at least to the characters, without falling back on cheap undercutting satire like, Oh, can you believe people think about Yates? I mean, she’s named Lita. The main character is named after Leda and the Swan, the very famous Yeats poem. And these things can be pretentious. I never find them pretentious and ferrante. I thought this was a beautifully realized movie.
S2: Well, I mean, maybe I’ve seen it twice now. I actually watched it on the plane out here to California because it was one of the plane movies, and I thought, Oh, I need to see that again to see why I didn’t vibe with it quite at the end. I mean, for maybe the first hour and a half, I agree with everything you guys are saying. But I think some of those virtues, Steve, that you are impugning to the movie actually just belong to Elena Ferrante. And maybe because you love her prose and you know, the world she comes from, you’re almost like grafting them onto the movie or something. I just didn’t think that the movie in itself expressed those things you’re talking about, you know, I mean, and again, this relates in some ways back to the the regionality and the place ness that I was talking about this absent from this movie. Mm hmm. I guess there was something so gauzy and elusive and, you know, referential about particularly the frame story, which, you know, I won’t get into now. But the thing that happens at the beginning and end of the movie that sort of gets buckled back to again at the end, the just left me literally saying, like, what happened? What was the motivation of the main character? Right? And as we walk out of the movie and I know that, you know, it’s ambivalent, there are many things to take away. But in relationship to this central story of her looking back, you know the flashbacks with Jessie Buckley, who’s fantastic in the role and the two daughters that you know, her ambivalent relationship to them? How are we supposed to feel about that? Am I too crass that I wanted a little bit more substance at the end of the movie?
S1: Julia I’m not going to call Dana crass, but can you do it for me?
S5: You know, she’s the crisis. I mean, we haven’t dug into is how radical or surprising or excellent or interesting is it to portray a mother who essentially regrets being a mother without regretting or letting go of the fierce love she has for the children she’s brought into the world? But just her sense of absolute Bessette ness was in the flashback scenes where you see her with children who are meant to be, I think, like four and six or five and seven, and feeling the unrelenting demand upon her for her attention, which pulls her away from her work, pulls her away from her marriage, pulls her away from the pieces of herself that that constitute her. Self. It’s interesting, and we just don’t see that that much, and there is, you know, I think Walter had it like a guide to the sad moms of Oscar season, and I saw some tweet going around of someone being like, Oh yeah, wonder why? I wonder why people are interested in the Bessette sad moms right now after two years of complete societal collapse like
S2: right and no parental leave, right? We still haven’t even gotten parental leave from from.
S3: Yeah. Like it.
S5: It does feel, um, sort of apropos. And I think part of what resonated for me with what Steve was saying about taking the academic world seriously. I mean, maybe there’s not as much precision or depth as there might have been in the novella, but like when she has a moment of her career beginning to take lift off, you have a sense in the early flashbacks that, like her husband, has the lead academic career and she is sort of the the fall back in the has been kind of in a mom swamp for a few years. And, you know, trying to carve out the space to do academic work with children seems like even more brutal than just basic because you don’t have someplace to go and you are just in your, you know, academic apartment and your kids are just behind a like French French doors with glass in them that have no soundproof. If they can even be contained behind there, like the sort of panic and terror and space listeners are feeling like she doesn’t have the space to do her own work is so well rendered in those flashbacks. And then when she does get invited to a conference and then get name checked by an academic big shot and then begin to kind of come into her own as a person who’s the power of, who’s the thought is significant, like the movie, you know, even though I think some of her rivals suggest like, Oh, well, maybe the academic big shot is just trying to get into her pants or whatever, like the movie takes seriously her ambition and her ambition to be something beyond a mother. And, you know, also looks at it cleanly as something that is kind of connected with her. You know, there’s sort of scenes where she’s enjoying speaking in Italian and just sort of luxuriating in her interests, you know, as someone who’s studying comparative literature and I don’t know that all of that felt so fresh and interesting to see. So I think there’s just I think some of the response to this film is just the base level of excitement that this is the emotional terrain that’s being portrayed. You know that just the actual. Work life balance challenge, which is oft discussed, but, you know, perhaps not often seriously rendered and certainly not seriously rendered with someone who who. Makes the radical choice to choose work and the life that work gives her over what usually lies on the life side of the column.
S1: Hmm. I agree with all of that. I think it’s just extraordinary to be in what feels like a real and fully rendered adult universe in a feature film, you know, in 2022. All right. Well, this one’s called the lost daughter. Maggie Gyllenhaal directed it. Adapted from Elena Ferrante starring Olivia Colman. There’s a lot there to work with. And guess what? We’re going to talk about it more because there’s a lot of stuff to spoil or that you can’t get to unless you spoil. So in the plus segment, we’re going to have another yet another crack at it. All right. Moving on. OK, well, before we go any further, we typically talk business Dana, we’ve got something fun today, in addition to the usual unfun, drab stuff, but
S2: hey everybody, we’re not drab this week. The sleek Balzer Gabfest not drab for a change.
S1: Slightly less drab than usual.
S2: Our first item of business was just to tell listeners about something we’ve been talking about for a few weeks. But here’s all the details if you want them. This is a live event that Steve and I are doing with ultimate friend of the program, Isaac Butler in New York City on February 3rd. It’s going to be at the Strand Bookstore and it’s a live joint book of it for me and Isaac, whose books, as we’ve talked about on the show, are sort of book buddies. They’re coming out within a week of each other. We’ve, Isaac and I have both been in conversation the whole time we’re writing about how the hell are we going to get through this? And so we’re going to talk about all of that and about the two resulting books themselves at The Strand on February 3rd with Steve as moderator. And this will later go into the feed as a live slate culture gabfest show. So if you’re in the New York City area, you can buy a ticket to this event, including buying the books along with it if you want. And we’ll leave a link in the show page. And our second item of business today is just to tell you, as always, about our Slate Plus segment. Today, we are doing overflow from our conversation about The Lost Daughter, the new film directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal, starring Olivia Colman. One thing that has been greatly praised about this movie by people that love it is that it is ambiguous and open ended and subject to all sorts of interpretations, which is true and is a good quality in a movie. But can a movie be so ambiguous that the ending requires a special, spoiler filled conversation in order to really address the movie at all? That’s what we decided was the case with The Lost Daughter. There’s a lot of questions that the ending raises that we’re not going to get into in the main segment because they would spoil the movie. So we’re giving you a special little button at the end. It’s just us scratching our heads about the last 15 minutes or so of the lost daughter. So as always, if you’re a Slate Plus member, you’ll hear that at the end of this podcast. And if you’re not a Slate Plus member, you can sign up to be at Slate.com. Slash culture plus signing up just costs a dollar for your first month, and for that dollar, you will get ad free podcasts. Bonus content like the segment I just described and members only programming on many other slate shows and, of course, unlimited access to all the writing on Slate.com. I should also mention that when you join Slate Plus, you are supporting us, our show and the journalism of our brilliant colleagues. So please sign up today at Slate.com. Slash Culture Plus again at Slate.com Slash Culture Plus.
S1: All right, well, Abbott Elementary, a sitcom on ABC, is a pretty cool thing for being so unexpected. It’s a sitcom about an underfunded urban school. Abbott is a Philly public school in the real and metaphorical shadow of Eagles Stadium, which is the show pointedly tells us is lavishly funded while the school is equivalently lavishly underfunded. Abbott goes without proper carpeting, lighting, staffing, you name it. They could use it and they don’t have it. Janine is a second year teacher who is not yet lost the shine of optimism, social purpose, a basic sense of calling. And this, it turns out it sort of shapes up as an important dividing line in the world of the sitcom, which is the veterans at the school tend to be experienced but jaded, and the newbies are zealous but naive and those criss cross and mix and complicate themselves in interesting ways as everyone more or less tries to make it work. This, in other words, is a sitcom with a pretty serious social message. It also turns out to be the basis for reviving kind of otherwise tired set of genre conventions the mockumentary style as it documents a workplace filled with nutty misfits on and on its stars, its creator Quinta Brunson. Let’s listen to a clip.
S3: Cool guys, I need a new rug. Mine is officially done. Hmm. Me too. I shook mine out and all of the asthma kids had to go to the nurse’s office. Yeah, mine’s busted. And he can’t class up a rug like it kind of couch with a nice coat of plastic. You would do baby boobs, which I think. But this little film corroborating here distracting makes our jobs harder but exciting. We want to be on TV because they are covering underfunded, poorly managed public schools in America. No press is bad. Press barb. Look at Mel Gibson still thriving. Daddy’s home to all areas. Ava is our principal. She has a unique take on her job. She’s bad at her job. What’s unique is that she’s bad at her job.
S1: Julia let me start with you. It occurs to me that the as different as they are lost daughter and Abbott Elementary have something in common there about how the weight of the world lands on the shoulders of women. In one sense, this is an interesting show. What did you make of it?
S3: If you had told me
S5: that, never again would there be a workplace mockumentary? I would have said, Thank God. OK, we squeezed every drop out of that. We don’t need any. Thank you. Goodbye. And then alongside LS Abbott Elementary and somehow feels like it is revolutionizing the form strong. Maybe it is, but like it makes the form urgent again by planting itself in a world that feels politically and emotionally realistic, if not 100 percent real. You know, the obvious comparison here to me is Parks and Recreation, right? Which is like a do good show, a workplace full of zany, wacky asides who you know fundamentally are trying to contribute to their communities within the increasingly fractured, fractious, you know, verging on like dissociative world of American politics. And yet and perhaps Abbott Elementary will get there if it continues. For many seasons, as Parks and Recreation did, it eventually became pretty severed from the realities it was trying to depict and the stakes of like, Does Pawnee have good parks?
S3: Yeah, felt a little.
S5: Pointless, like part of the point of the show was about government and bureaucracy, but like, really, it was just a workplace, and I think the show didn’t engage super deeply with the ideas of what government is and does and can provide. Whereas in this show, the stakes feel electric. You know, the education of these children who need this institution to look out for them and take care of them and develop them and instill them with confidence and growth. And just, you know, I think there’s a great moment in the last daughter where a pregnant woman is like, Well, being a mom must be so great for you, right? And in her queens accent. And then Olivia Colman is just like, it’s a crushing responsibility.
S3: She walks away like, it’s just such a great moment. And like,
S5: this show is a sitcom all about the crushing responsibility that our society has to its children, how it is failing that responsibility and leaving these teachers on the front lines and in an after a couple of years where teachers have been on a different kind of front line, both in terms of figuring out what education should be during the pandemic and then of course, in the various political fights about whether and how schools can reopen safely. It’s really interesting to see teacher centered and then I think it’s emotionally super rich, like the way it plays, the balance between the jaded teachers and the and the bright eyed newbies and the just emotional struggle in life of like, where do you put your energy and what do you try at? And how do you what does it mean to try to make a difference and do things like? I found it to be like almost profound, and it’s still just like 22 minutes of snappy sitcom beats. I think it’s a marvel. I really loved it.
S2: Yeah, I mean, major major props to Quinta Brunson for pulling this together and also being the star who was very funny. I really, really love her character, who, as you say, Steve, is this kind of white ideologue in a school that operates on a much more cynical faces, but is also just very sharp, very funny, very good at the, you know, John Krasinski camera glance when the people around her are being, you know, more mediocre than ever and and really carries the show, even though all of the roles, I think are super, well, cast. I do think I definitely disagree with Julia that it reinvents the mockumentary framing. I think it succeeds in spite of that very tired framing rather than because of it. And I think an interesting place it could go. Formally, that I hope it does go is to acknowledge the people behind the camera, which is something that these workplace fake mockumentary never do. In fact, if you are being constantly followed around throughout your day by a documentary film crew, or I guess in their world, a documentary film crew, you would get to know those people. Those people would interact with the children and the lunch ladies in the cafeteria and would have a presence. And that, I think, would make that a less tired trope. But framing aside, this is almost weirdly the comedy that made me think of the mainstream sitcom was Brooklyn Nine-Nine. Even though that’s not a mockumentary format, it had a little bit of a similar. It had a similar warmth and a similar sense that there was this dysfunctional workplace, but the people in it were fundamentally not terrible, with the possible exception. We’ll see where it goes. Of the principal who, as you heard in that in that clip, really is a grandstander and is always looking for a social media attention, et cetera. Even she, though, is not the villain of the show. There’s a certain warmth toward all the characters that that I really appreciated. So, yeah, it gets a lot done in 20 minutes. It takes on questions that are hard to take on in comedy without being sort of boo hoo about it. One more note that I would make, and this calls back a little bit to our Station 11 conversation of a couple of weeks ago is that I wish the children were better characters. You know, I mean, they’re running a school. It’s all about, you know, who loves the kids, who doesn’t love the kids? What do the kids need? And I feel like the kids and the actors who play the kids are treated a little bit as props to come in and give a punch line or say, I wet my pants and then they have to deal with the wet pants right there, sort of setting up jokes so far anyway. Three episodes in rather than being characters who we get to know. But maybe that’ll change. Mm hmm.
S1: Yeah, I agree with everything you guys said. I mean, you know, to begin with, there’s just it’s just a great example of how with some proper initial choices, you can make a very mainstream show that’s nonetheless profoundly subversively political. So of course, the big one is you allow the showrunner and star to be a woman of color. That’s the first and most important one. But then the second one is like just subject matter, you know? I mean, it really I don’t mean to to beat and beat and beat the already dead horse, but it is just the absolute focus of American hypocrisy that we want to regard ourselves as a class looks at a classless society. All of our clichés about ourselves ride on this idea. That opportunity is at least plausibly equal or more equal here than it is elsewhere. And every one of those gets a. Exposed. I mean, it’s it’s they both get their highest expression in utopian American Hope and get dashed most bitterly in the public schools, where the equalizing might happen actually happened, but then doesn’t. And I just you. It’s one of those things you slap your forehead. Why has no one made a sitcom about this before? I love the show. This captivating. It’s very funny. I love the ensemble cast. I love the the the digs that I relish as digs at me. There’s like a white, nerdy white would be white savior who constantly finds ways to self center in the middle of a workplace, you know, dominated by people of color. It’s fresh is the word that I would attached to it to a point, and I think it’s worth saying what you guys have alluded to, which is that the format is exhausted beyond exhausted. I mean, the first one that I mean, of course, the great mockumentary is Spinal Tap, but the first sort of sitcom workplace sitcom mockumentary was the British Office. And in many ways it’s just going back to that over and over again. I mean, the great American Apotheosis was really Parks and Rec. It’s tough. I I actually had more trouble. It sounds like than you did with the discrepancy between the freshness of the material, the sensibility, the cast and the point of view against these, to my mind, very tired tropes beats conventions and over. But but I will say that I’m as interested in sticking with it for finding out the inventive ways that they overcome that, that contrast. And so far, the news is quite good. They seem to have,
S5: yeah, I guess part of why it works for me and part of why I think this is just such an amazing project from Quinta Brunson and is exciting for whatever she continues to do with this show, but also for what her career will unfold is like. The characters feel so precise they don’t feel like types. They don’t feel like, um, I don’t know. They just feel really fully rendered from the pilot on, including the buffoon of a principal who we heard in the clip. Um, and you know who whose storyline essentially, I think about how social media has, like broken the brains of otherwise competent people, which is a relevant storyline. But like, I don’t know, there’s just a specificity. I mean, it’s just the basics of good writing. But there’s this specificity to each of these characters. There’s a, you know, substitute teacher slash potential love interest slash like stilted dork type who’s just a very precise human, you know? And so I don’t know. I just was willing. I found the structural. Maybe you guys have talked me out of thinking that the show is doing something radical and new with the mockumentary format. But I it just seemed like a fertile springboard for something so good that I like didn’t didn’t mind. And I think the actors. It also creates a showcase for these very precise characters who’ve been sketched out to, you know, crack wise and and make their little asides and further reveal the preciseness of their characters through this sturdy format. And I don’t know, it just worked for me. Didn’t didn’t bother me at all.
S2: Yeah, I think I’m being won over to your side, Julia, which is that the framing is a little tired and I do hope they push it specifically by breaking the fourth wall and acknowledging who’s behind the camera would be cool. But the newness of the content of the show and the originality of the stories that they’re trying to tell, and if you know anyone who’s taught in a public school for a long time, this just kept making me think of a an old friend of mine who taught in a bilingual school in San Antonio, Texas, for 20 years or something like that. I mean, she was a fixture at the school. A beloved teacher worked as an administrator as well. And yet she was never able to effect any real change in the school. You know, and I heard so many stories about people that are almost, as, you know, bad at their job as we heard in that in that clip as the principal on this show. Right. And they were coming in and out of the system and there was nothing to do about it because they were undesirable. And I mean, it brings up all these questions about education that are so difficult to solve. And so I really identified with that the fact that, you know, there is these huge systemic problems and there are people that really care about them working within the system. And there’s there’s just so much working against them to make any real change.
S1: Yeah. Hear, hear. All right. Well, you know, adjust your rabbit ears. This is this is on network TV. I don’t know if you know how to find it anymore, but up my producer is whispering in my ear. You can also watch it on Hulu. It’s Abbott Elementary. We really admire it. Really like it. So check it out. All right, moving on. All right, well, Luke Winkie in Slate magazine recently wrote There is no common ground between us to true, right? Consensus is dead. It’s buried in these trying times. However, we need something to unite us on our lowest common denominator instincts. His suggestion, Luke Winkie suggestion, was logging into Wordle every morning. And you know what I have to say? Julia. A while ago, we talked about spelling bee. I was about a week into my addiction, which is, you know, you don’t you don’t really understand the scope of how something can take over your life, how obsessed and competitive you can get. Five. Six Tries in nap now I’m actually fully prepared to talk for hours about spelling bee and how to ruined my life. But Wordle I’m still in the total flush of the infatuation phase. I’m I probably done it eight 10 days. I’m inordinately proud of my performance thus far, even though I’m sure it’s absolutely in the dead center hump of the bell curve. But anyway, I’m going to I’m going to knock this one over to you now. Tell me about Wordle your Wordle habits and where they’re trending.
S5: Well, it sounds like maybe we just need to postpone this conversation for six months and see whether we’re still obsessed based on your spelling bee comments.
S3: Well, actually, you know what I
S1: need you to do is that I’m such a hopeless Wordle had I didn’t even describe what it was, I assume everyone in the world is getting high on my supply. Why don’t you?
S5: Wordle is a once a day web word game in which you must find you must identify correctly a five letter word and you have six tries to do so. And with every guest you make, the game tells you whether you have selected a correct letter in the correct spot or a correct letter in the wrong spot. You then figure out whether you can crack the game in six tries. The game also has a sharing tool, so if you have seen people sharing those sort of histogram looking grids, squares of green and yellow on Twitter, those people are playing and talking about Wordle. Did I did I miss any things that a succinct enough explanation of what the heck this game is?
S1: Yes, I think Dana a very quick detail needs to be added, which is wow, we were literally. While Julia was speaking, a friend of mine screenshotted and texted me his Wordle today. So of course, right now I’m screenshot ing and sending mine back to him. We’re kind of going toe to toe here. Dana, you’re a viciously competitive kind of undermining sort. What’s your Wordle experience?
S2: I mean, like every time we talk about a game, I should just plug in a recording of me saying the same thing. Like, I don’t get what’s the big deal? Well, my primary experience of Wordle until we decided to talk about it in the show was that it was the thing that was ruining my Twitter experience,
S3: and I
S2: know that some other people are having the same experience. Steve, you’re not on Twitter anymore, so you’re doing this old fashioned style or I guess it’s all different kind of newfangled style by texting results back and forth with your friend who’s doing it? But if you were on social media, you would see that everyone is constantly posting these grids. If you don’t play Wordle, it just looks like a grid of green and yellow and gray squares. I don’t know what it means is being posted is all I see anymore in my feed, and people are posting it with these cryptic messages about, you know, how they’re proud or they’re ashamed or they’re sick of themselves because they’re addicted to Wordle. And all I see is green squares clogging my feet everywhere, and I don’t know what it means. So one of the things about Wordle is it’s very shareable. And I guess this has in part to do with the fact that it only happens once a day. Right. And in a way, it doesn’t happen in real time, exactly, but you have a limited amount of time to do each day’s puzzle before the next day appears. Is that right, Julia or D? Can you keep on going back and doing old Wordle?
S5: No, you just get to do the current one in front of you. There’s not an archive that I’ve discovered.
S2: So in a way it’s like, I mean, I think the virality of it must in part be related to to that, remember that little trivia game show we once talked about that was that was viral for a while, and it was this kind of goofy host that would appear like once you do HQ. Exactly. Oh my god. And you had to do it in those five minutes. And the excitement, I think had to do. I mean, it wasn’t even pandemic time yet when that went viral. But think about it now. I mean, the idea that there is a place that we all gather and you have to be then in there to do it. That’s not quite the case with Wordle, but it has a similar sense of an event game, you know, rather than a thing like spelling bee, which I prefer to play actually, if I had to choose. That’s just plonked there. And you can you can take as long as you want to finish it and go back and do old ones as well, right? Can you with the spelling bee or I don’t know. As you can tell, I don’t really care about any of these games as I had my usual challenge of just I was just trying to do enough Wordle games in a row that I could bring something to our conversation about it. I guess I’ve done it four days running now, and I will say, and this is the one time I posted the results, that the first time I did it, I got only three tries, which is not fantastic. But for your very first shot at Wordle, it’s pretty good. And I thought, Oh, this is so easy. I’m so smart, I’m going to crush this game, and I’m going to talk about how dumb and boring the game is and how I’m awesome at it, but I don’t care. Right? But I didn’t get to be that cool person because the very next day, I didn’t get it at all, even in all of my tries. And I believe the next day I got it in four or five years. So I’m like, Steve, I’m now just in the average middle of the bell curve. And I guess I don’t know if this is me or the game, but I don’t quite get the mojo that makes people so excited about it that they have to constantly post it. If you enjoy the game, that’s great. But I don’t particularly want to look at green squares all day and hear people brag about them. I’ve also heard when I mentioned this fact on Twitter when I posted my very first results and said, I promise this is it. I’m doing it for the Gabfest, but I promise not to throw squares at you every single day. Quite a few people responded, saying that those squares were real accessibility problem. And for people who are using software that translates what’s on their screen into words that they go to check their Twitter in the morning and it just says Green Square, Green Square, Yellow Square, Gary Square, Wordle for that reason. So in spite of the fact I’m not using that software solidarity, no more green squares, please.
S1: You know, Julia by my math and correct me if I’m wrong. Dana to 12 minutes of prep for this segment for Wordle is that the average average of about three minutes per Wordle less?
S3: Well, I mean, not to out myself, but how much prep did you do? I was going to
S2: say, I think Stephen is standing on a very slender leg right there, so we’ll just
S1: move around in a very quickly moving on Julia. Let’s talk strategy. So of course, you learn very quickly what the sort of risk reward of a tradeoff is in the game, which is that you can make guesses because you think you’re close or you can choose a word that you kind of know isn’t right, but strategically is going to get you there in in one more move after because of the letters that you’re either eliminating or getting right. I thought that that was kind of the strategic balance. And then like chess, it’s your opening move is the determinative determinative one almost, which is that first word. Does anyone have like a pet first word they use every time?
S2: Can I tell you this was just pure luck with the first word that I used on my killer first day that I nostalgically look back on when I got it and three guesses
S5: I don’t know wheat. What was your first word?
S2: Well, first of all, I looked at I mean, I guess in a way, I looked at tips. So maybe that’s why I did well, although even after losing the tips, I never did well again. But there was a piece in The Washington Post about Wordle and how it’s going so crazy on Twitter, etc. And they were suggesting some first word strategies which included, you know, just use a word that has a lot of commonly use letters, right? Because it’s hangmen. This is basically a variation on the game of hangman, right? Where with every round you’re eliminating letters that are not in the list and figuring out the placement of letters that are in the word and at one of the words they suggested, because it has a lot of commonly use letters in the alphabet with slate. So it seemed like, of course, in honor of our beloved employer that I should start with that word. So Slate was my first word, and I then very easily more easily than I will ever probably do again. Figured out that Slate went to salad and salad went to solar, and solar was the word. So that was my moment in the sun with Wordle.
S5: I love starting with Slate. I also love the idea that you bring up the hangman analogy and that essentially what we’re describing here is like the whole internet and buy the whole internet. I mean, extremely niche portion of the internet that is like journalists on Twitter has gone fucking insane for Hangman, a web version of Hangman. And then I also just want to point out that Nadira Goffe are wonderful. Production assistant has popped in our chat Hangman plus battleship, which is like 100 percent true.
S3: I want to just say
S5: that this game is fun. The sheer ability like I don’t and won’t to share the results of my games I like. I have not shared the green squares, I won’t share the green squares, the green squares are the green squares did cause me to be aware of the game. Like I was like, Oh, I guess there’s a thing. And then when people started to do like, what’s this thing? Type articles, I read the articles and then I was like, Oh, I like word games. I guess I’ll try that and I did, but I’m going to both be an asshole and jinx my streak and just say like I. I think the game is too easy. I haven’t like I can’t I like just mathematically, you have enough tries to try the plausible words. I don’t know. I have yet to not get it, and I’m sure that means I won’t get it tomorrow. But like, I don’t know. And it also it’s so limit like it’s so quick. It’s you can’t. It’s like a game that can’t eat your brain. And that’s it’s like main. Plus, I agree, it feels to me like a game we won’t be playing in six months because you can sort of like crack the strategies and it gets less interesting. The thing that has been fun is playing it with my kids. So we’ve started doing it as like a family activity, and they’re at a place in terms of their vocabulary and like approach to strategy games that it’s really fun for them. So that’s that’s the piece of it that I have been finding enjoyable. And my opening word is usually some version of like spare or spade or spate like you
S2: get rid of the same letters, you
S5: get the S, you get the ANC and you get one of the like word end letters within the D or the R.
S2: Yeah, I think I believe this is true that E is the most commonly occurring letters. I’m certainly pretty sure it’s the most commonly occurring vowel in English. And so you almost have to have an E in your first try because you want to know, is there one in there? And what’s the placement if there’s a silent E at the end that already narrows down the field a lot. I kind of agree with you, Julia that probably if I played this game on a regular basis, it would start to seem a little too easy, which doesn’t mean that I would ace it every time. But I don’t feel the challenge in it that I do in getting to a high level in the spelling bee. You know, I really feel like you can feel your brain waking up and you know, you can be having your morning coffee and doing the spelling bee and sort of feel like I’m my brain is wiring in jacking into the matrix now, you know? And this Wordle game has never set my brain cells on fire in that way, whether I do well on it or poorly on it.
S1: So my first words are I try to get three vowels, you know, up there and word number one. So I’ve used Abide and AIDS ADC, which has held me in pretty good stead because you kind of immediately get your vowels. And if you’re lucky, some of the placement of the vowels becomes clear. And then it’s then it’s kind of an easier row to hoe. From that point on, I think this game has caught on, at least with me. I’ll speak only for myself because it’s the it is the anti spelling bee. It came along at just that moment. Spelling bee feels like like a job, like my homework hanging over my head, you know, and it’s the anti spelling bee, right? It’s it’s that spelling bee is is like your nice.
S3: Hey, great, you know, amazing genius.
S1: Amazing genius, but not queen, never queen, you know? And you know, and it it it’s also you sort of stare for hours or I do at spelling bee kind of beetle browed like, you know, ancient man trying to puzzle out fire or, you know, something and you know, just the amount of time that I sit there kind of word blind, incapable of squeezing out another word. And the other problem with it is that, of course, you get to the point where geniuses every day pretty much. And so your only standard then becomes getting queen. Getting queen involves, at least towards the end. My experience always involves jabbing at random sequences of letters like the monkey trying to write, I want to be the monkey that wrote Hamlet, you know? And it’s it’s it just is that it’s not an exercise that like measures anything or it’s like it’s delight free completely. The idea that Wordle is short, almost entirely non-competitive. It’s pretty much once you get the basics down a matter of luck, whether you’re going to get it in three or four, maybe five. The time doesn’t run out on you. You’re not rated a genius or a dance with, you know, either way. And it’s just it’s just done with, it’s over. I mean, it just is. It’s disposability and its silliness is what’s so pleasure pleasurable about it. So I’m I’m all in. I love it. And then it means that the like, passive aggressive needling competition that I have with my friend on the West Coast about it we both know is meaningless so we can get incredibly mean and underhanded about it. It’s very fun.
S5: It’s true, actually, Steve, the thing that’s so great about it, and I know I just was a little bit shady about it. Shade also, a decent first word is. That the stakes are appropriate, like the import, the time that it takes the difficulty. It’s like a good third wave game, like everyone’s so fucking exhausted by everything in the goddamn world right now.
S3: It’s like this game is like short.
S5: Easy finish
S3: and done. Like, it’s like, it’s like the perfect game for a world that is like almost given up. Like that is why everybody loves it. It’s so
S1: true. So true. All right. Well, I’d love to hear what our listeners make of this silly little game. Tell us about, like some, you know, life hack way to get it into every day or whatever. But let’s get me on this one. Let’s get it coming in. All right. Wordle moving on. All right, now is the moment in our podcast when we endorse Dana, what do you have?
S2: Stephen I’m doing an L.A. related endorsement. The one cultural thing that I’ve done since I got to L.A. Well, I guess talking to you guys is a cultural thing and talking to Marc Maron is a cultural thing. But as far as an outing in the city because of Omicron and because I was here to do work and see friends and do other things, I didn’t go to any movies and I only went to one museum, which I really, really wanted to see while here, which is the Academy Museum, the museum that opened during COVID. I’m not exactly sure how long ago last year and a half or so run by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film History Museum happens to be a couple blocks from where I’m staying, and so I got the time ticket and I went there yesterday with a friend in general. I would be really great if we could tour this museum together and do it as a segment because I have a lot to say about what works and doesn’t work at it. Of course, this is only one set of exhibits and it’s the very beginning of the museum. And I’m not an art critic. It’s a little bit early, but I would say I was somewhat underwhelmed by the museum and a lot of the way that things were presented in it. But my favorite show in the museum is almost entirely online, and you can look at these wonderful objects in a in my favorite thing, it’s up there right now. If you go to Academy Museum dot org and look for an exhibit called Path to Cinema, which was just a small room that was full of all these old optical devices, it was sort of very early, you know, pre motion picture camera devices, magic lanterns and Phoenix to scopes and kinetic scopes. And the names alone are fantastic. But you know, from all around the world, there were these various kind of objects that used the fact of persistence of motion, the way that your eye, you know, fills in movement in between. Still, images like in a flip book, right? In fact, there’s flip books in this exhibit. And so there’s all these different devices from the 18th century on that that use that persistence of vision to create the illusion of movement. And some of them you see in action, some of them you just see behind glass because they’re so old and precious. You also have a one wall that’s showing the Lumiere brothers very first movies screened in 1895, which was dear to me because my book kicks off with that very scene the 1895 screening of Lumieres first films, and it’s just one of those small but perfectly mounted exhibits where you can’t believe you’re looking at this tiny, little hand-painted box, you know, with little glass slides inside from Holland in the 1800s, just that kind of little precious gem exhibit. So if you go to Academy Museum dot org, we’ll put a link on the show page. The exhibit is called Path to Cinema, and you can just look through a slideshow of all these cool objects
S1: that is really cool and typing it into my word document as we speak. Julia What do you have?
S5: Have either of you read our country friends the new Gary Shteyngart novel?
S3: No, no.
S5: It’s a novel set at the protagonist’s Hudson County Country folly, and the protagonist is a very guy. Gary Shteyngart Esq, a successful Russian immigrant novelist and essentially a bunch of friends from all over his life, all convene in a space that, like, you know, in your mind, you invent the space of a book as you read it. I just set it at your house. Steve, there’s like a set of like additional outbuildings and like particulars of the space that are not as your house is. But I just like I like when they when walking down the road, I pictured like the road by your house, like when they talked about weird neighbors. I pictured like things I’ve driven by near your house. Like, anyway, you need to read it because it’s very much set in the milieu of like New York people who moved upstate and, you know, are confronting the mysteries of life and the pandemic and child rearing and all the rest. I want to caveat that the book is a great read, really funny and snappy and observant and just astute about the particulars of the modern condition in the way that Shteyngart best work is. I will say that I cannot vouch entirely for the final fourth, fifth of the book. Like it gets weird and I’m not sure it sticks the landing, but I will. I can say that the whole ride is worth it because the first three quarters is incredibly fun and revealing, and whatever the final bit is, even if it’s not entirely successful, is is interesting to encounter. So our country friends Gary Shteyngart.
S1: I love it. I love it. It took me 15 years to get in your head Julia. But I finally did it with an assist from Gary Shteyngart. But I I I did see that that was out and I’m eager to read it, but are fearful for what a creative class nitwit it’s going to make me feel like I am. But whatever I feel that way already, so I’ll read it to either one of you know, I think she’s Israeli born two years Israeli born singer Keren and Keren and a friend of mine. Yeah, she’s been around for a while. I hadn’t heard of a friend of mine. Whose taste I trust sent me an email saying I had flipping out for this, listening to it constantly, she’s wonderful. She’s good, she sings in French. I think she’s paris-based and most of the songs I know of hers or many of them are in French, and she just has that fetching voice in that very French chanteuse style. It’s lovely. It’s amazing stuff she does. I didn’t. I really honestly thought at this late date, no human being could do a fresh, much less, you know, affecting cover of Hallelujah. The song, famously covered by Jeff Buckley, the Leonard Cohen song famously covered in Made Kind of Eternal by Jeff Buckley, but she manages to do it. It’s it’s her own. It’s fresh, it’s a new song. When you hear her singing, it’s remarkable
S3: and it goes like this before the fifth, the minor fall major led by fucking composer. Hallelujah.
S1: But her music in general is bewitching and of a kind that I think both of you would love, so check it out. And then very quickly, I just kind of against my better nature or my own sort of expectations. I somehow stuck with it and I’m completely into succession now. I was absolutely
S1: placed on the love hate fence. And I was love, hate watching it and kind of reluctantly on and off. And then I hit. I don’t know if you guys have stuck with season three or how far you got in season three, but the episode that totally kind of. Now I’m just all in. I know it’s crazy this far in. But the birthday party, Kendall’s 40th birthday party, which it’s like it’s it is both Oti and Oti, and it’s over the top and on the nose in ways that I would have thought couldn’t possibly work. But it’s it’s about an asshole’s 40th birthday party, but he’s the asshole who’s desperately trying not to be an asshole and doesn’t want that birthday party, but he only comes to realize it as it begins to really fully unfold and he melts down. And I suddenly realized in his own weird way, Kendall is, is is sort of like Tony Soprano, like one of the great TV characters in that he’s doesn’t know whether he wants to rescue himself from his inhumanity or his humanity, and he’s caught between those two things, which is exactly the weird dilemma of watching the show. It’s like everything that I find ugly about the world that has its corollary. You know, it’s not non-objective. Corollary in Stephen, Metcalf is like drawing me to watch this TV show against my better nature at the same time. Like, I can’t help it, but maybe it’s sort of a redemptive satire. I just don’t know. And I’ve finally crossed that weird Rubicon and his horrible struggle. I mean, he’s just the way he speaks is so characteristically weird and self-conscious. And I don’t know. I just didn’t think a morality tale about the upper point a one percent could really be anything but corrupt. But I’m I’m I don’t know. I’m sort of now weirdly taken with it.
S5: Have you finished season three? No, no, no, no. Oh, I’m so excited. You have so much fun ahead of you. If you’re if you’re intrigued by Kendall’s ride. I like was gonna tease you and point out that this is like when I came back, I was like, Chinatown’s a good movie, but I
S1: know it’s like John Swanberg telling us to watch this great old sitcom called Cheers.
S5: But I’m glad you’re. I’m glad you’re enmeshed in it because I do think that the ideas that that show is interested in our ideas that you are interested in. So I’m glad you’ve written it through, and I’m really excited to hear what you think of the episodes that follow because it takes Kendall in interesting directions.
S1: Oh, fabulous. All right, well, thank you, Julia.
S3: Thank you. Thank you, Dana. Thanks so much, Steve. Carly Dana I
S2: know this is my first trip out here where I’ve kind of gotten le fever and I don’t want to leave
S2: It’s so good here. It’s also because it’s I’m always on vacation when I’m here. So it seems like, wow, no one ever works in California.
S1: I love it, man. The hair streaming behind you, the designer drugs coursing through your veins, you know
S3: you get the
S2: convertible that I’m not licensed to drive.
S1: All right, we’re going to gun it once down Hollywood Boulevard for all of us. Dana, you will find links to some of the things we talked about today at our show page. That’s at Slate.com Slash Culturefest, and you can email us at Culturefest at Slate.com. We left a lot of great threads hanging. Let’s let’s tie him up over over Gmail and, of course, the introductory music to the shows by the great Nick Britell, who also does Julia the theme song to succession.
S3: Yeah, I mean, and the and the score of the whole show.
S1: Yeah, it’s just the music in that show is flawless, and that’s courtesy of of Nick Britell. Our production system is Nadira Goffe. Our producer is Cameron Dru’s for Dana Stevens and Julia Turner. I’m Stephen Metcalf. Thank you so much for joining us. This is a fun one and we will see you soon.
S5: Hello, and welcome to this slot Blues segment of the slate culture gabfest today we are going to discuss the end of Last Daughter as we were debating whether or not to discuss this. And plus the way that I put it was, I don’t know, guys, I really want to talk to you about whether at the end, when does she ooze or doesn’t? So let’s do it. Is Lila going to die at the end? She gets stabbed by Nina, the wonderful Dakota Johnson character. Is she having like deathbed outreach to her daughters that she scorned before she slips away into the desk? Or is she? Does she just have some, like mild but sustainable mystery internal bleeding
S2: to just minor hat pin trauma to the
S5: left? It’s like there’s still like blood on her stomach and her nails, but she’s like, apparently been lying in the cold surf overnight where she collapsed.
S3: Like, is she dead? Is she going to die or not?
S2: What’s going on? That’s I mean, that’s one big question. And then we’ll get into the sub questions raised by the ending. My reading of it after two viewings and the first time I think I had the same question Julia is that she is not going to die. Is that she, you know, you passed out, woke up, realized what had happened, and then he gets a call from her daughter, right? Her daughter to the place. Yeah, she doesn’t place the call. She gets a call from her daughter and that she’s rejoining the world. I thought the meaning of that final conversation with her daughter was sort of like, she’s still ambivalent. She still has a hell of a lot going on. Her daughters don’t know anything about like getting stabbed by hacking by Dakota Johnson as she flees a Greek island. But she’s kind of she’s she’s doing the work of motherhood with some ambivalence at the end, which is exactly what we saw her doing in the flashback scenes with Jessie Buckley. That was sort of how I read it is that she’s she’s at some point going to get back in the car and I guess driving a wet, bloody dress to the airport and fly home. That brings up a lot of other questions that I’ll ask you guys in a minute, but I want to hear what Steve thinks first. Is she dead, Steve or a dying?
S1: I that I hate to pull this like jujitsu move from the old seminar days of Eid, and I thought this was a story about ambivalence, ambiguity, self torture and life’s inherent lack of closure, and that anything resolving the action either by a kind of quasi act of suicide or or suddenly realizing no, what I want is life would have done an injustice to what I just watch. So I sort of felt I didn’t feel as though there were a little underlying on a first pass. I didn’t think that there was an underlying literal thing that was being suddenly made quite figurative and artsy, i.e. she’s dying or dead. I didn’t think that that wasn’t my impression. My impression was, you know, she’s had this rather extraordinary experience. And when she says to the daughter, I mean, the last lines, the daughter just as casually as the throwaway conversational remark, Oh, we thought you were dead only meaning that we couldn’t get a hold of you on the phone. Not that you were literally dead, to which she says no. And she says, I’m alive or very much alive. And I felt like that wasn’t an affirmation of of her sudden zest for for life or her ability to live with the choices of her previous self. I thought it was like, This is what it is to be alive, right? Maybe there’s some acceptance there, but it’s kind of Sisyphean, right? It’s like, that’s what it is to just pull push the rock up the fuckin hill, right? There was this was supposed to be a vacation. Instead, I got brought face to face with my own past. But that’s that’s
S5: You just pull the hat pin out of your gut and keep going.
S3: I just want to also
S5: say, as someone who’s done like, you know, some like wild wilderness EMT training, if you get a deer puncture wound, you’re supposed to leave the thing in and seek medical help, like removing the puncture. That’s a recipe for spreading arteries. She really did not handle it correctly.
S3: You can see the ultimate
S2: takeaway from the movie is safety first with hat pins, people.
S3: Yeah, I think the ultimate takeaway is like, it’s a good thing
S5: we’ve done away with hat pins as a
S5: They can stay dead. I mean, I think you’re right, Steve, that some of the ambiguity is baked in and is sort of part of the point. And I think I did. Although I had the fundamental question of like, are we supposed to read it is that she’s dead. She’s obviously not dead. You know, there’s like a version of it where it ends with her collapse by the sea, or it ends with the waves like leaving her cold, dead face and she, like, sits up in her sort of sort of, you know, there’s an amazing kind of contrast between the matronly ness of her form and her, which I think the camera spins interesting time looking at and her like vim and passion and and intellectual fire and all the. All the interesting things that are going on in her brain and her ambivalence and her perverse desire to steal a doll from a bereft child, which we also need to get into and snuggle the doll and like dress the doll, like why did she want to play with the doll? She’s like trying to redo the mothering that she did. She’s trying to make it so that the Nina character is as bad a mother as she was like. Anyway, she’s made a series of odd and particular choices throughout the film, but like, you know, she sits up, she keeps going, she talks to her daughters like, I do think there’s a life goes on for better or for worse air to the finale of the film. The prior scene, I think we should also talk about what the hell was going on with the doll and what was going on between her in the Dakota Johnson character. And what did you make of the Great Hat pin stab of twenty twenty two?
S3: I mean,
S2: I guess here as we go over these questions, I have to say that I don’t dislike this movie. In fact, I, as I said in the main segment, you know, thoroughly enjoyed almost each individual scene. I have trouble pointing it into any one thing about it that I didn’t like or find fascinating or would want to do differently. But I think it is a weakness of the movie that we’re asking these questions, and I think it may have to do with adapting what is no doubt if I know why. Elena Ferrante, a very personal. It’s the first person I know its first person point of view and a very interior, monologue based kind of story with film which naturally can’t capture that right unless there was a voiceover every single second. We don’t know why Olivia Colman’s character is doing these things and, you know, kidnapping the doll and buying clothes for it and and also strangely leaving it out on the table when Ed Harris comes to her apartment. Remember that scene he comes to visit, and we know that the doll is out on the table? And I thought, Oh, there’s going to be this dramatic irony in the suspense that we know that this incriminating object is on the table, but she doesn’t seem to care. And that in itself is interesting, and I want to know why she kind of wants to be found out by this guy. I mean, this kind of goes back to what I was saying in our main segment, which is like, yeah, ambiguity. Yeah. But like, I literally don’t understand what this movie is saying about motherhood, about this particular character’s relationship to motherhood. And I know it doesn’t just reduce down to this, but honestly, like, are we supposed to feel angry at her for taking the doll? Are we supposed to identify with her taking of the doll if we don’t understand her motivation for doing it? How are we supposed to understand the fight that she has with Dakota Johnson character about the fact that she did it? Why does she want to reveal it at that moment, right? Doesn’t she come out with the doll? Doesn’t she basically admit I stole it? Yeah, right? And she changed in their relationship that she’s doing that. I mean, if I were giving notes on the script to Maggie Gyllenhaal, I think I would say, and this reminds me a little bit of Rebecca Hall’s passing that we talked about another directorial debut for an actress. I think I would say, I admire your subtlety. I admire the exquisite ness of your eye for dialogue and know touch with actors body Balzer. But like, I would like to know what your movie means and is about, and that doesn’t boil down to like mother, good mother bad. This is what the doll means. But like, after you read a good book or see a great movie, you could write something about it, right? You could write an essay about its themes, and I don’t know. I sound like a junior high school teacher right now, saying write a five paragraph essay. But don’t you crave more clarity from loving
S3: like Dana, the asshole editor who’s like, nice, nice, nice stuff, blah
S5: blah blah. Praise, praise, praise. But OK, what was the fucking point? Do it better.
S3: Like you’ve seen through to the underlying core of what all editorial notes actually offer. But yeah, I
S5: yes, it was. It was elliptical. Mysterious. Your derision is jerseyan strong. Your criticism is making me want to mount a defense which I am turning over in my mind. I mean, the thing that I. Liked about the relationship between the Olivia Colman character and the Dakota Johnson character, which seemed, I think, well-placed in at least the performances is like. The. The tribe of motherhood, the tribe of women, the difficulty of sharing or talking to or admitting to a desire against motherhood and and certainly of like reckoning with or sharing her decision to abandon her kids when they were young. And the also the like compelling portrait of that radical obstinacy. You know, like Dakota, Johnson’s character, Nina can sort of smell it in Leda and like me knows that there’s something there’s a place there to put her as she calls it depression or something like her just sense of dissatisfaction and and suffocation in the life she finds herself in. And what I love is she they have this intimacy. She’s sharing that she feels overwhelmed. She’s sharing that she isn’t sure about being a mother. You know, Leda brings her the doll has the opportunity to be like, Oh yeah, I found it. Here you go. Gracia the doll back and instead, like, wants to confess in this moment of honesty. Like, No, I just keep wanting things that I’m not supposed to want. So I just took her daughter’s doll and played with it. And then the Nina character, it’s it’s a it’s a mama bear moment, right? She’s like, Fuck you, you fucking hurt my kid. I’m going to stab you in the fucking gut with this like trapping of femininity, right? I’m going to take like the most traditional maternal thing or womanly thing, like a fucking hat pin, which nobody uses anymore. And is this kind of archaic woman thing and like, stab you in the abdomen from whence your offspring came, and that that flash the strong flash in both directions in Nina of like, I’m not sure I want to be a mother. I’m not sure I can be a mother. I’m not sure I like being mother and like, I am a mother and fuck you for hurting my kid. Like, I just sort of loved that flare of. I loved seeing the club in character getting burned by the flair of another woman, similar ambivalence, and I don’t know for me that exchange and the shock of it was sort of worth the price of admission.
S1: I really agree with that. I thought that was I thought that Dakota Johnson’s character’s reaction was kind of in a weird way, at least within the world that we’re in believable and really powerful. And I’m not saying I sympathize with it, but I understand it within the logic of the movie and her character. And, you know. But I love that this show has. This segment has conspired to have me mansplain motherhood and movies to Dana Stevens.
S3: But let me take it away, Steve.
S1: Let me let me see what I can do in my in my last waning moments as a broadcaster. No, but I so I let me let me see if this flies, OK? This is just this running up the flagpole, and you should tell me like, like, take that flag down, please. But in some ways, this movie is a meditation on the two two on two aspects of being a woman, which is your own possible sexual awakening. Your place in the sexual marketplace with Dakota Johnson is depicted as an incredibly, incredibly sort of sexy, alluring younger woman you know who’s trapped in a marriage but also can’t contain her sexuality within the marriage. What’s the attractions of other men and seeks them actively seek them? Whereas the Leda character is depicted as someone who maybe became a mother to young or before she had really fully explored that part of herself or just can’t give it up, she cannot kill off her. That part of herself that, you know, might look for romance or sexual satisfaction was with someone other than the person she ended up marrying. And you have these two women balanced against each other, one when one very young, one 20 years older. And and I in a weird way, I thought of it as an act of revenge, of the older woman against the younger woman who thinks she might be able to have both. And in what she’s effectively doing is saying, well, by just simply stealing this doll, I’m going to turn up the temperature on your marital and parental reality to intolerable heights and show you, in fact or force upon you. What I felt was my dilemma, in part because you just can’t live with the way she resolved her dilemma 20 years earlier. And so to the degree that she actually wants to be just left alone by this family, actually, she’s an incredible meddler in this, in this one way for all of her passivity and her supposed refinement, refinement and above it all in this, she’s actually done this one tiny, little simple act that she knows is is just going to. It’s just going to get it exactly where the fissures lie in that marriage and that family. So it’s a devilish act. I have a hard time not imputing something like, you know, of kind of quasi Freudian motive to it in some sense. I don’t know. What do you think?
S5: Oh, that’s so interesting that like, it’s not so much that Nina is seeking and are similarly ambivalent mom and leader, although there is that, but that lead is trying to create an ambivalence and Nina that makes her feel less depraved and alone.
S1: Yeah, I think I read it. I mean, but Dana am I?
S2: My father is calculating, she herself says. I don’t know. When she asks why she took it.
S1: Her own conscious or unconscious is calculating.
S3: I mean.
S2: Right? Well, I mean, we have lots of evidence. I mean, arguably too much and an almost on the nose way Freudian evidence about what the doll means to her because there’s the flashback doll, right? There’s the doll that belonged to her as a child. This is not clear at all, but she apparently had a horrible relationship with her mother. Right? And and she destroys that doll because her daughter doesn’t respect it and plays with it, and it draws on it. I think Right plays with it in a way that she doesn’t consider the correct way to play with the doll. So there’s something going on with her own children where she wants to be in the position of child once in a while, right to get to be the person who has a doll who has something of her own, who doesn’t have to share everything and sacrifice everything. And man, is that relatable. I mean, I have to say that, you know, for all of my, I guess, complaints critiques about the overly vague framing of the beginning and end and, you know, other stuff in the movie that we could talk about that central relationship of Olivia Colman to her younger self. You know, the Jessie Buckley Olivia Colman continuum between her old self and her current self is so well played by both actresses you completely believe they’re the same person, even though they look almost nothing alike. And and they both get across, you know, that intellectual fire that she has and how happy she is when she’s, you know, spouting Italian poetry and making out with Peter Sarsgaard, who we have. You even talked about as the, you know, arguably creepy guy who nonetheless liberates her, you know, from that, from that parental existence she’s unhappy with. But yeah, I understand that the doll means lots of things. I don’t even mind that the doll means ambiguous things that we don’t have to solve completely because, well, my God, who hasn’t, you know, done strange mean gesture towards someone that they can’t quite explain, even to themselves. It’s such a Ferranti thing. I mean, everybody right in the lead Neapolitan novels is constantly committing weird acts of psychic violence against each other for reasons that they are not even aware of. So that part all seemed like part of the complexity and ambiguity that I do like, you know, but I just don’t think that that should have to end up with like, we don’t know if the protagonist lying bleeding on a beach is going to die or not. That kind of gets away from ambiguity and goes into just Gore’s illness or something like that. Another thing the movie seems gauzy about, and I wonder what you guys think of this is like, what are we supposed to think about that Peter Sarsgaard relationship and about the fact, you know, she betrays her husband? I mean, these are all questions about sort of like, to what degree do we identify versus judge versus identify with and judge that character? And you know, I watched it with my partner who thought that the flashback husband was sort of done an injustice. You know that all we get to see flashback husband do is sort of be a pain in the ass. You know who shunting the kids off onto her. But I actually felt a lot for him in that flashback scene where she’s just very abruptly leaving him. And the daughter is, you know, with this kind of expressionless icy rigor about her. You know, I kind of wanted to know more about what was their marriage like. And you know, what was it like during the three years that he took care of the kids? I don’t know. Once again, I feel like I’m somehow a literalist because I want to understand who that character is besides a vague shadow from the past who represents, you know, familial oppression. Well, and
S5: she is such a child in that flashback scene. I mean, the most intriguing part of that scene is where she yells at her husband for suggesting that she going to send her daughters to her mother, who she who she was so traumatized by. It’s like, you’re fucking walking out on your husband and kids and and but you disapprove of his plans for dealing with the calamity you are setting upon the family like she just like, is a bad person, you know, like she’s she’s or she’s not a bad person. Like, that’s sort of the interesting question, but she’s a she’s a person who’s made a bunch of bad and ungenerous decisions.
S2: And yeah, I mean, I would say that, you know, leaving your children for three years abruptly and then coming back to them, it doesn’t make you a bad person, but at least for that period of time, it makes you a pretty bad mother. You know, I think those kids, as they grow up, would be legitimate in saying, like, I have some serious issues with my mother. She did some things to me, very does.
S5: Maybe it just does make her a bad person actually, like, I think it kind of does. So, so fuck my quibble. So she’s she’s like, she’s in the middle of making the decision that tips her over from a person with like understandable ambivalence and longings into just like actually following her selfish desires to the point of of of of moral wrongness. And then she’s like, How could you like she has no pedestal from which? To How could you attack anybody? I thought that scene was so amazing and and to me, sort of suggestive of. I mean, the movie can also be about that relationship in the past, and I felt he was a little thinly sketched the partner. But I didn’t assume he was just a simple because you because you are seeing that she’s making a set of monstrous choices.
S2: But what about Peter Sarsgaard character? I mean, it seems pretty clear that the movie is to some degree, mocking him, right? And his his pretentiousness, his kind of. I mean, I hope that the movie doesn’t think like, Oh, what an admirable academic with his puns on Paul Recurs name or whatever. I’m pretty sure those scenes are supposed to be sending up that guy. Yeah, right? That he is kind of trying to get into her pants. So what does that mean about the fact she leaves her husband for him? Although she does also say at that moment, Oh, I broke up with him, and that was another moment where I thought, OK, you spent all that time setting up her seduction by Peter Sarsgaard, and you’re not going to even tell us about the fact that she ended that relationship and then left her family. I just I need some substance Maggie. Come on.
S1: I mean, I would say, I would say the very least it’s being. It’s a send up by someone who knows the type well, as opposed to someone who just knows it by the cliché. So it it feels real, even though it’s satiric or at least somewhat uncharitable, Gary. But a couple of things I just have to say very quickly is just how amazing it is 40 years later. How infrequently, 40 years after Kramer vs. Kramer, which of course, famously the whole action of the movie kicks off with Meryl Streep, a mother for reasons that remain unexplained in the movie. Simply leaving. She can’t do it anymore. Leaving Dustin Hoffman as a single parent with his kid at the time you were like, This is so radical, right? I mean, like dads abandoning kids for literally for 50000 years, and we can make a whole movie about the one woman who dared ditch a kid. Here it is, 40 years later, and it’s the same thing. How many movies have we seen where someone is depicted? Heroin is depicted as a bad mother, much less one who just brand abandoned her kids. The other thing I would say it’s it’s just incredibly rare. But but the but the other thing I would say very quickly is, you know, as to whether it’s an immoral, whether she’s a good person or a bad person or a moral person or an immoral person. In this instance, at least, I would say she only has to make it up to those two people, those two kids. I mean, I may be completely wrong about this, but and I’m not saying you could ever do it and maybe you couldn’t. But the only, you know, the world has no right to judge what a parent or a spouse does. The person who has a right to judge it is the wronged party. Right. And we as a society go along with that right. We don’t stone women and we don’t. There is divorce and, you know, and we don’t criminalize adultery and, you know, on and on and on. And so it’s up, we don’t know. And the movie is very, very, very, I think, shrewd about not letting us know really whether they’ve forgiven her superficially, deeply, not at all, whether it still comes up. But. And so I thought in a weird way, it it it put as poignantly as possible under the noses of the viewer the radical ality of the thing that the woman did. And of course, evoking all of its inevitable psychological costs to the two girls without attempting to say, Oh my God, this traumatized them forever. We’re saying, No, no, no, no, no, it’s OK. There’s closure like they all went to therapy. They’re all great now. So that’s where I came out on that issue.
S2: All right.
S5: Well, any movie that prompts this much debate and discussion, I think I at least will slot into productively ambiguous rather than inert. So. But certainly there’s plenty here to dig into and dive into, and the performances warrant your attention.
S2: I agree Julia completely agree despite my quibbles. And if there’s one thing that I would definitely say, it’s that I’m excited about Maggie Gyllenhaal debut as a director. I mean, in no way was this a disappointing debut. It was a super promising and exciting one.
S5: Yeah, it’ll be super interesting to see what she does next and and really thrilling. I mean, the three central female performances, all of them Olivia Colman, Jessie Buckley and Dakota Johnson are great. So here’s to more Gyllenhaal films. Here’s to you delightful sleepless members whose membership supports this show, the work we do, and all of slate. Thank you very much for that, and we’ll talk to you next week.