On the masterwork of Tenet

Christopher Nolan is unarguably one of the most talented filmmakers working today. I’ve loved his work since we saw Memento in a tiny little theater on a whim, and walked out with a different view of what a film could be. His work is smart, it’s challenging, and it’s gripping and engaging. Tenet seems to have received a mixed reception. I don’t think it’s my favorite of his movies, but it is certainly my favoritely crafted. It’s not very easy to follow the actual story, but it dives headfirst into creating a mood. Again, it’s unlike any other film I’ve ever seen, with multiple layers of meta structure. There were a lot of complaints about how the dialogue is inaudible over the blaring soundtrack, but I found that everything that was important for the viewer to know came through clearly enough, and the sound design itself was amazingly immersive and worked as a powerful element of the film’s environment. The action scenes were fresh and intense, the humor is tight and subtly delivered, and the storytelling aims high and almost entirely hits its target.

If you haven’t seen it, my recommendation is to watch it once, think about it for a little while, and then watch it again. Then come back here and enjoy these videos and articles:

A visual breakdown of the car chase scene:

A visual breakdown of the final attack scene:

This is the (real life) historical key to the entire movie, which fundamentally is just a huge pretentious pun:


And some more background on this.

I like this video essay about the craft of the film:

And this may answer some of your lingering questions:

I hope you enjoy this movie as much as I do.

Things about Watchmen with some spoilers and musings about the life we live in and the nature of stories

I’m struggling a little here, because there are so many things to say about the book and its place in history. It is an “important piece of art”(™️), with far more complexity than can be easily expressed. It literally transformed the entire field of comics, and every piece of the genre owes something to it, good or bad. It deserves its reputation as one of the greatest graphic novels of the form, but there are many things about it that are not easy or nice.

It has long been considered unfilmable, not just because of the complexity and harshness of the story, but also because much of its brilliance is inextricably tied to a deep understanding and through deconstruction of comics as an art form. Like his other comic adaptations, Zack Snyder’s take was a shot for shot blocking disaster that completely lacked any inkling of why it was doing what it was doing. Don’t watch it.

But HBO’s new show is kind of amazing, an adaptation that has taken the lens of the book and adapted it to TV and the way media is consumed and informs us today, and has applied that to a modern and culturally relevant story while giving us an unflattering perspective on our ugly history (and consequently, our present), with just enough skewed by the insertion of superheroes that the contrast makes everything even clearer.

I have more to say, but it’s not fully formed yet. I have a few minor quibbles, but the show is a masterwork. It’s hands down one of the finest pieces ever produced for TV, period. Watch it.

Game of Thrones may be the story of the Hero’s Journey for Winterfell Itself

This post contains spoilers for GoT Seasons 1-7, if that wasn’t blindingly obvious.

I started to write an entirely different post about some theories for Season 8, and midway through it hit me. Game of Thrones isn’t about the Hero’s Journey for any singular character, it’s about that progression for Winterfell itself. George R.R. Martin loves to turn fantasy tropes on their heads, and what better fakeout would there be than to have a bunch of characters who are all expendable, because the main character is actually a place. With that spark, this suddenly all makes perfect sense.

Here’s the paragraph I started, and then stopped midway through:

At this point, I’m about 50/50 on there being dragons under Winterfell. It would make a great season opener to have someone digging around in the crypts and finding a whole bunch of dragon eggs, just waiting to be hatched by Jon. Winterfell is important as a character unto itself – it’s a special place in the same way that the Starks are a special family, so this would fit with a lot of the puzzle pieces. It wouldn’t be weird to suggest that Winterfell is the main character of the story – we start there, and the story i

I don’t know if this fits directly with Campbell’s 17 stage journey, but there is definitely a lot of interplay here. It’s taken a long time to build, and I think we’re seeing what might traditionally be at the beginning of the journey as we approach the end of the series. Some of the aspects of the journey are embodied in the Starks, but not all of it. There is probably more, but here’s my general train of thought:

  • At the beginning of the story, Winterfell is somewhat idyllic, and certainly regular and familiar.
  • It undergoes a separation, losing its lord in much the same way that Luke lost his adopted parents at the beginning of Star Wars.
  • There is for sure supernatural aid and rescue from without – I don’t think I need to even list examples here.
  • There’s a call to action – the army of the dead is marching on Westeros, and Winterfell is right in the path behind the Wall.
  • In this scenario, the Wall is also a character – Winterfell’s mentor against Winter. Losing the wall is about to spur Winterfell into action.
  • What will that action be? I think it’s going to be hatching a dragon, or many dragons.
  • Winterfell can never go home again, but at the end of the trials, it will flourish into something new.

There’s a lot more to chew on here. I’ll have to think about this.

Or maybe after all of everything, the army of the dead just wins and turns out to be unstoppable. GRRM does like his twists, and I wouldn’t put it past him. It doesn’t necessarily have to end with humanity saving the day.

Everything in its Place, or the opposite of that?

There are two schools of what I’ll call, for lack of a better term, “stuff accumulation interaction design living”, the art of how you approach the minor physical objects in your life. Nail clippers. Scissors. Flashlights. Tubes of ointment. You know.

School #1: Have a place for everything. Buy one of that thing and put it in the place for the thing. When you need the thing, look in the place for the thing. When you’re done with the thing, put it back in its place. Repeat.

School #2: When you need a thing, look for it in some obvious places it might be. If you can’t find a thing when you need it, you don’t own enough of them. Buy three more and put them in places you might think to look for them next. The critical mass of owning enough of a thing to be able to find it when you need it will vary with each individual thing. When you’re done, put the thing back in some obvious place you might think to look for it again. If there is already a thing there, re-evaluate. Repeat.

This says something about you, how you interact with your spaces, and the rest of the decisions you make in your daily life. Choose your school carefully. I want to know what you chose.

Trust or Believe

I had an interesting exchange with a co-worker yesterday. It was unseasonably warm outside, and I’d just come into the office to drop off a bag before heading out to lunch. When we were leaving, I told him he didn’t need to bring his coat. He shrugged a bit, considered it, and left his coat. When we got downstairs, he expressed surprise that wow – indeed it was warm enough and he didn’t need his coat.

“You didn’t believe me?” I said.

“I believed you, I was just skeptical until we got outside.”

“Ah – so you didn’t believe me, but you trusted me anyway.”

Having gone through this interaction, this comes up frequently. Trusting someone’s opinion is not the same as believing them, and convincing someone to follow you is not the same as convincing them that you’re right. (On the other side, just because you don’t believe what someone is telling you doesn’t mean that you’re not going to accept it.)


It seems I am growing a protest beard.

Beards are visceral. If you grow a beard, it is a persistent fixture on your face, but ephemeral at the same time, not as permanent as a tattoo. Beards cannot be ignored, either by an observer or the wearer.

For the past 18 years or so, I have been growing my beard for New Year’s (even with the embarrassing and dated historical record, I don’t remember exactly when I started or why). Every year, I begin at Thanksgiving, grow out a full beard, and shave it off for a clean start on January 1. It’s been a way for me to mark the New Year in a way that’s hopeful, symbolically shedding the vestiges of the last. This year, I was distracted and started late, so I didn’t get a satisfying conclusion, which seems fitting. My wife suggested that as an alternative, I could grow a protest beard. Apparently I am not alone.

I don’t like Trump’s agenda, I don’t like any of it, and this is an outward gesture I can make that I won’t stand for it. I believe that climate change is a real problem that needs to be addressed. I believe that many but not all corporations cheat in pursuit of profits when not subject to external oversight, and that cheating often happens in ways that are undetectable to the consumer, sometimes until it’s too late. I believe that cooperation is the only way to address the many problems that humanity faces as a species in the near future. I believe that kindness is important. I believe that world stability is a key factor in enabling scientific progress. I believe that scientific progress is important. I believe that publicly funded research belongs to the public. I believe that I don’t care who you like to fuck and that people should be allowed to designate any one or maybe two people of their choosing to be granted the legal benefits we currently reserve for spouses. I believe that I don’t care what god you like to worship, if any, as long as you don’t try to force other people to follow your beliefs. I believe that respect for women as equals is so obviously a given that why are we even still discussing this?

A beard is certainly a symbol of masculinity, and I’m comfortable with that. It is a symbolic gesture to demonstrate my assertion that the concept of masculinity espoused by the recent election is repulsive, and here, world, is mine – that respects women and cooks and cleans and raises children and likes to play with toys and respects intellectual achievement. Obliquely, a beard is also solidarity with the Muslims in this country. I’m an agnostic but still spiritual Jew, I oppose profiling and discrimination on the basis of religion, and I think it’s shameful that our country is even considering this.

I’ve been growing my beard since January 20 of this year, and the plan seems to be to keep it until Trump is out of office, at which point I will hopefully breathe a sigh of relief, and we can all begin again with a clean slate.