Posted in Reviews & Analysis

Ship of Theseus: a peculiar watch in all senses

“A frog once asked a centipede how is it able to walk on a hundred feet so gracefully synchronised while the frog finds it difficult to manage even two. The centipede took a moment to analyse his own walk and was baffled. As it tried to walk further its feet got entangled and it tripped.”

Anand Gandhi’s 2012 film is a peculiar watch in all senses. I saw this movie a few months back, and re-watched it for writing this review. The film is open to the viewer’s interpretations. Moreover, there is a chance that the understanding of the film might even change when viewed s second time.

Coming from the intellect of Gandhi, this movie is very different from your regular Bollywood films. Inspired by the Theseus Paradox, the film tells three stories, one after the other. It gives you three indeterministic narratives that converge beautifully into what may appear to be a deterministic view. “Three Roads converged in a philosophical quest, which one would you choose, the movie tries to ask”. 

So, let me put forth a review in the form of a questionnaire, the questions the film left me with.

The first tale is of a photographer Aliya (Aida El Kashef) who is left blind by a cornea infection. It’s a beautiful depiction of how she manages to capture the scents of her surroundings based on her intuition. After her cornea implant she’s stuck with the dilemma, “Why is it amazing to have no limits or doubts?” Every dialogue pierces through the consciousness and makes you question yourself. Towards the end, it leaves you with another question – Do you capture or do you click the perfect moment?

The second piece revolves around the constant struggle of how one perceives life through two entirely different points of view, thereby highlighting the plurality and the phrase – We’re all blind men trying to perceive the elephant.This struggle is portrayed by the Jain Monk Maitreya (Neeraj Kabi) and the young lawyer Charvaka (Vinay Shukla). Maitreya’s belief in karmic causality is severely challenged when he’s diagnosed with liver cirrhosis. The monk who spent his life fighting a court case against animal testing by pharmaceutical companies has no other option but to take medicines and go through a liver transplant. The question thus arising it this, “Is it worth giving your life for something that’s nothing more than a thought experiment?” Towards the end, the story exposes the human misconception of everything being under their control. It ends with some very wise lines, “It’s so oppressive, the obsession we have with the final answers. We invent God, soul, heaven, afterlife even life imitating technology of all sorts of transcendence to cope with the idea of an absolute end. And then we die for an idea which provides some sort of immortality.”

The third narrative follows a practical man Navin (Sohum Shah), who is hardly invested in his work and barely cares about the people around him. Over the course of the events, we watch him go on his own quest for justice, justice for a poor man whose kidney has been stolen. He finds the rare moment of his life, where he stands still to feel and understand the deeper meaning of his actions. 

The movie closes with the interior of a cave, inspired by Plato’s Allegory of The Cave, from best-known work, The Republic. In the allegory, Plato likens people to prisoners chained in a cave, watching shadows and believing them to be real. The man seen in the cave in the video seems transfixed to the wall and his own shadow cast upon it. He doesn’t make his way out. The lives of three entirely different people come together and the paradox comes to life; As the planks of Theseus’ ship needed repair, it was replaced part by part, up to a point where not a single part from the original ship remained in it, anymore. Is it, then, still the same ship? If all the discarded parts were used to build another ship, which of the two, if either, is the real Ship of Theseus?

~ Nayantika 
BA Program, 2nd year

Posted in Reviews & Analysis

Dune: The “Mammoth Moment” we didn’t know we needed

With the trailer of ‘Dune’ dropping on 9th September, the countdown to its theatrical release has officially begun. This is the third adaptation of the 1965 sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert, after David Lynch’s movie (that he himself disowned due to artistic constraints enforced on him) and a miniseries (2000). Having read ‘Dune’ as a teenager, Denis Villeneuve (Blade Runner 2049, Sicario, Arrival), an Academy Award nominee was profoundly impacted by it. The French-Canadian auteur has not only directed but also produced the movie on two conditions that the studio, Warner Bros had to agree on– that it be shot in a real desert (‘they didn’t shoot Jaws in a swimming pool’, Villeneuve argued) and be split into two parts.

A coming-of-age tale, Dune is built around the character of Paul Atreides (Timothee Chalamet), a scion of the House Atreides on the desert planet Arrakis, aka Dune, a key location in a galactic power struggle. Paul, a young man facing extraordinary circumstances is destined for a fate ‘beyond his understanding’. He’s the Messiah who must undertake a journey to protect his planet and its inhabitants (Fremen) and do so with integrity, honour and faith in the tradition of the House Atreides and his father, Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac). 

The trailer opens with Paul’s voiceover, ‘There’s something happening to me.’ His precognitive skills are making him have visions of the future – a mysterious blue-eyed girl (later revealed to be Chani (Zendaya), a Fremen from Arrakis) in a rocky desert landscape, and an imminent war. Paul knows that ‘There’s a crusade coming.’ 

In a stellar cast, Jason Momoa plays Duncan Idaho, a great fighter who serves House Atreides and is entrusted with protecting Paul and the family of Atreides. Javier Bardem plays Stilgar, a man of ethics and morals, a fighter and the head chief of a Fremen tribe of Arrakis who is taken by the message that the Messiah, Paul Atreides brings with him. Josh Brolin plays Gurney Halleck, a war-master and a braveheart who has an added dimension of softness to him through his affection for poetry and Paul Atreides. 

Rebecca Ferguson plays Lady Jessica, wife to Duke Leto and mother to Paul, who has profound impact on the way circumstances unfold, which Ferguson says have been portrayed brilliantly in the film. Sharon Duncan-Brewster plays Liet-Kynes (originally a man in the novel). In casting Liet as a woman, Villeneuve has concentrated on the essence of the person whose importance of character lies in the ability to understand and move in between worlds, Brewster says in an interview. Stellan Skarsgard plays Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, the rival leader to Leto and the Atreides, and his goon, Glossu Rabban is played by Dave Bautista. The high calibre cast in the action-packed trailer foreshadows the immensity of what is possibly the most anticipated big budget theatrical release of fall 2020.

Scheduled to be released on December 18, 2020, the trailer gives off major Game of Thrones meets Assassin’s Creed meets Blade Runner 2049 vibes. The largely monochromatic trailer foregrounds a grounded colour palette (as opposed to Blade Runner 2049’s neon infused one) in a series of intense flashes of scenes that give away very little in way of plot. With grand production designs, the filmmaking seems to be a 70s sci-fi dream come true. Greig Fraser (Let Me In, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, The Batman) is brilliant as a cinematographer with the trailer being a visual and auditory delight with grand war scenes, sandstorms and giant adversaries in a gritty, dark and mysterious aura. The fight sequences evidence advancements in the field of warfare with forcefields that work only on high speed projectiles and as the book explains, make the art of handheld attacks a vital part of warrior life.

The over three-minute-long trailer is high on drama and climaxes with Paul asserting ‘I must not fear. Fear is the mind killer. Where the fear is gone, only I will remain’ amidst an eerie and ambient rendition of Pink Floyd’s ‘Eclipse’ by composer Hans Zimmer (Gladiator, The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception), furthering the visceral experience. 

Villeneuve says that he has explored the tragedy of a family going into a new environment through the dynamics between House Atreides and House Harkonnen. Adding to that, in his adaptation, Villeneuve has sent a message about conserving nature, asserting that with the changes coming in the real world, the movie is more relevant than ever with its commentary on politics, warfare, ecological destruction, religion, ideologies and spirituality among others. He has described Dune as a coming-of-age tale not just for Paul Atreides but also for humanity (although fans of the books often interpret it as a cautionary tale of jingoism and the cult of personality). In an interesting choice of casting Chalamet as Paul, Villeneuve has said that Chalamet has contrasting features as he looks like he’s had a lot of experience with the depth in his eyes and his expressions and yet, seems so youthful- which is an intriguing characteristic of Paul along with his adaptability and his willingness to listen and to learn. 

To put the immensity of ‘Dune’ into perspective, when asked in an interview, ‘We’ve been living our own dystopian future. Why do you think this is the moment for Dune?’, Brewster (who plays Liet) replied, ‘It’s gonna be a mammoth moment when people have the chance to experience something that is not only just exquisite, a feast for the eyes but is also something that we should take home with us and into our hearts… this film can inspire change’.

With the trailer creating quite a buzz with its tantalising visuals, high calibre cast and talent behind and in front of the camera, ‘Dune’ is scheduled to be released worldwide on December 18, 2020.

~ Ummul
BA Hons English, 3rd year

Posted in Recommendations, Reviews & Analysis

Why the Pandemic is the Time to be a Psych-O!

Gus is a TABLE! Gus is a STATUE! Actually, Gus is neither. Burton “Gus” Guster is Shawn Spencer’s best friend/partner in crime in a series called Psych (2006-14),and he is frequently (read: always) involved in some wild, often life threatening situation with Shawn- in the aforementioned reference, Gus was being asked by Shawn to act like a table in order to trip an armed criminal. The ridiculousness of this scene is what makes Psych, Psych. The other thing that essentially defines Psych is its healthy obsession with, and celebration of pop culture, with beautifully and cleverly crafted themed-episodes (my personal favourites- Hangover, Harry Potter and American Idol) and references.

Not a single human being in existence is capable of understanding all of Psych’s references, for they are as obscure as Billy Ray Cyrus’s mullet in the 1980s (thank God for that; we don’t want his mullet back- business in the front, party in the back). If you are left scratching your head trying to figure out this reference and want to refine your pop-culture knowledge, then Psych is the show for you. If you could understand this reference, and want more binge-watcher flex moments, then Psych is the show for you too. That’s the fascinating thing about Psych– it’s for everyone.

Psych follows Shawn Spencer (James Roday), fake-psychic detective and his best friend/partner in crime and crime-solving, Burton Guster (Dulé Hill) who run a fake-psychic detective business agency that takes up personal cases, but mostly assists the Santa Barbara Police Department in putting bad guys behind bars. It sounds like your average cop-based series, and it is but at the same time, it isn’t. It is effortlessly funny. It oozes wit and charm without the use of poorly-aged jokes, and hence, with an ease unseen in shows of the 1990s or early 2000s.

Each episode starts off with a cold open in the form of a flashback from Shawn’s childhood, always involving his father, Henry Spencer (Corbin Bernsen) and more often than not, Gus. Shawn’s dad is shown to be a former detective, who started his son’s detective-training at a very tender age with “how many” or “what is missing” challenges, refining Shawn’s “heightened observational skills” and eidetic memory. However, much like the modern-day kid, he disappoints his father (I’m sorry if this seems like a personal attack), as he lacks the focus, resolve and seriousness, or rather the will and desire to join the SPBD as a real detective. Shawn and his father’s complicated relationship is real and relatable, but the best part about it is that it grows along with the show. In addition to this, detectives Lassiter Carlton (Timothy Omundson) and Juliet O’Hara (Maggie Lawson), and the Chief of SBPD, Karen Vick (Kirsten Nelson) complete the show with Lassiter’s snarky remarks towards Shawn,  Juliet and Shawn’s non-platonic cuteness and palpable sexual tension, and Chief Vick’s patriarchy-busting badassery. 

What will always catch one’s eye is the fact that almost all episodes have a pop-culture reference, often related to the content of the particular episode. The episode mentioned in the beginning of this article involves a murder in an oil rig, and is called There Might Be Blood, which is a reference to the movie, There Will Be Blood, which as you may have guessed it, IS ABOUT AN OIL RIG! A few episode titles that will SURELY excite you, if you love pop-culture are Who Ya Gonna Call (shame on you, if you did not just scream “GHOSTBUSTERS!”), Cloudy with a Chance of… Murder, Shawn (and Gus) of the Dead, Indiana Shawn and the Temple of the Kinda Crappy, Rusty old Dagger, Talk Derby to me among MANY MORE. Shawn and Gus’s unparalleled, one-of-a-kind humour and Shawn’s flair for the dramatic are highlights of the series, making his crime-solving capabilities more hilarious, than brilliant. His dramatic reveal to the SBPD often involves his signature finger-to-the-temple move, a dramatic entrance, speaking through/to an inanimate object, absurd hand gestures, dancing and sometimes, fainting.Talk about theatrics, phew. There are longstanding, but ageless jokes in the series such as its obsession with pineapples (keep an eye out for them!), and Shawn’s habit of using ridiculous names to introduce Gus- Magichead, Ghee Buttersnaps, Die Harder, MC ClapYoHandz with a Z, Hollabackatcha and Jazz Hands, to name a few. Shawn and Gus’s chemistry is one that leaves the audience jealous with a longing for a friendship as good and beautiful as theirs. Perhaps what makes it a more wholesome and feel-good series is the fact that Roday and Hill are REAL-LIFE BEST FRIENDS!

Taking snippets from his own childhood and basing the show upon his real life story- choosing a career path different from that of a detective’s, against his father’s wishes-the creator of Psych, Steve Franks does absolutely no wrong with this masterpiece, especially the theme-song I Know You Know by his band, The Friendly Indians. However, the one disadvantage of Psych is that… it is EIGHT seasons, or 121 episodes, or 90 hours, or four days long. With that being said NOW is the time to watch it- you cannot go to college, you cannot eat out, you cannot attend parties, you cannot meet your friends, BUT you can watch Psych just like I rewatched all of its 8 seasons recently! So please go ahead with guilt-free binge-watching and try to pick up on those crazy references. You can even impress (read: troll) your friends with the help of Shawn and Gus’s metaphoric book of insults and comebacks (When Shawn said, “The plot, unlike your hair, thickens”, I felt that). And, if you are begging for more after 8 epic seasons of your new favourite series (fingers crossed), you can watch the two Psych movies- Psych: The Movie (2017), and Psych: Lassie Comes Home (2020). Finally, in the words of the great Shawn Spencer and Burton Guster- 2020 can, in their typical sing-song tone, SUCK IT.

~Faaria Hilaly

Philosophy Honours, 2nd year

Posted in Recommendations

A Beginner’s Guide to Musical Theatre

Last year, while I was scrolling through Netflix to find a new show to fill in the boring days, I stumbled upon “Glee,” a Ryan Murphy creation. I wasn’t thinking much of what watching this show would mean when I pressed play on the first episode, but it ended up giving me the opportunity to explore the uncharted territory of Musical Theatre. The show had its problems for sure, but, I was suddenly aware of the fact that there was a whole genre of movies I had yet to acquaint myself with. Naturally, I became the musical nerd I am today through vigorous binging.

With the new rendition of West Side Story coming later this year (December 2020) and a lot of time on our hands during quarantine, I thought it would be the best time to give out recommendations to anyone wanting to get into the genre, or maybe looking for great music, or even just wanting to try something new. Now, without further ado, I’d like to bestow upon you the movies that got me into the marvellous world of MUSICAL THEATRE. 

Chicago (2002)

I’d like to start this list off with one of my personal favourites: Chicago. Badass womensinging about all the men they killed, while in prison for their crimes? Sign me up!! Before this, I thought musicals were all rainbows and sunshine, but my whole perception of the musical genre did a full 180 after watching this classic movie about the criminal scene of the underground jazz community of Chicago (not a surprise) in the roaring 1920’s. The story mainly revolves around protagonist, Roxie Hart, who dreams of becoming a jazz performer just like the other protagonist, Velma Kelly. She is willing to do anything to fulfil that dream which eventually ends her up in jail. If you do become obsessed with the songs like I did, well, just like all the men in this movie, you definitely had it coming.

Moulin Rouge! (2001)

With stellar performances by Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, this movie is everything Chicago isn’t. It has romance, it has comedy, it has angst and one thing similar to the previous film, is its amazing soundtrack. No doubt, it IS a love story, but its not your meet-cute trope. I can’t tell you much without spoiling it but all I can say is that it will be worth your time and you will end up chanting “diamonds are a girl’s best friends” for the rest of your life.

Cabaret (1972)

I feel like I’m going in circles here but, once again, I’d just like to highlight the fact that the music in this movie is phenomenal. To be very honest, “Maybe this time” has been my anthem ever since I watched the movie back in 2016 (mind you, I was not a fan of musical movies back then but there was nothing else on tv, so I had no option. I don’t regret it one bit though). Ah, to have a character breakthrough while singing your heart out on the stage of the Kit Kat Klub. Also, a romantic escapade during the Nazi Regime, in the heart of Berlin…. That’s what I’m talking about. Take notes, writers.

Mammia Mia! (2008)

This one is very different from the rest as a PURE comedy with light-hearted music. This movie gave us the incredible song “Dancing Queen”, an all-time personal favourite. Actually, the entire soundtrack is based on the hits of ABBA! Imagine getting married on a beach on a lovely Grecian island. But you don’t know who your father is, so you invite the three men who could be your father. Yup, that happened. The protagonist really played musical Russian Roulette to find her father.

Funny Girl (1968)

Who doesn’t know this classic that gave Barbara Streisand the much deserved recognition. I don’t think the plot will appeal to you as much as the signature song “Don’t rain on my Parade”, because we obviously don’t want anyone to rain on our parades. This movie is about a Jewish girl with a big nose, a heart full of passion and a heavenly vocal prowess. We adore a woman standing up against the unjust ways of society and that’s why we love our Funny Girl.

West Side Story (1961)

Now, let’s circle back to the reason I wrote this whole list of recommendations: the OG West Side Story. It’s a love story yet again, but it tackles a lot of social issues as well. Don’t come at me (for a person who claims to despise romance with all her heart, I sure do watch a lot of love stories). The scene is set in Manhattan, 1957, where two rival gangs: the white American gang, the Jets, led by Riff, and a Peurto Rican gang, the Sharks, led by Bernardo, see tension rise between them. The ‘ex-gang founder’ of the Jets, Tony, is called upon to join the fight against the Sharks. Enter Maria, Bernando’s younger sister and the rest you need to watch on your own. Ah the tales of a forbidden romance with beautiful music reciting even more beautiful emotions. What’s not to love? 

That is all for now. You should go watch these movies because they are never getting old, you can quote me on that. There is still a lot of time to get sucked into the musical black hole before the new West Side Story is released, use it wisely. You will become more dramatic and you will have the urge to break out into songs at any and every moment (nobody can prove it but legends say I sang “Maybe this time” when I tried to pick up the cup I always drop, wishing I’d do it this time without dropping it). You have been warned…

~ Khushi Shokeen
BA Hons Philosophy, 2nd year

Posted in Reviews & Analysis

You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are

Draped in shades of chestnut and brown, a woman stands. Her trembling hands placed over one another, the sun illuminates her quivering body. An electric guitar gently strums in the background. There’s an altercation; a dull, dead harmonic with a sense of unease and heightened awareness is heard and that’s when the camera moves upwards to a scene seemingly from a Victorian era novel. A delicate and seemingly fragile voice sings, quivering with emotion as the woman stands alone in the field with her round, hazel eyes looking into the distance, the sadness in her eyes drawing you in. You can see a tear rolling on her left cheek and you know then that her life hasn’t been easy. 

‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’ is the second track from Keaton Henson’s first album, Dear (released in 2010). An illustrator, a poet and a folk-rock musician from London, Henson’s struggles with anxiety make him a tortured recluse, inhibiting him from performing live. His music is unadorned by complexities, making one wonder how so much can be conveyed with so little. Interestingly, the sad ballad ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’ was originally written by Keaton for his ex-lover, Soko (a French singer) in reminiscence of who they used to be. 

Directed by David Wilson, a Grammy award nominee and edited by James Rose, the music video to the song is a one-shot feature film with  stunning cinematography. It opens with a close-up of a middle-aged woman played by Sophie Thomson in a brilliantly heart-breaking performance. The beautifully tragic music video compels you to empathise with the woman as she stands yearning, perhaps lamenting, perhaps pining and awaiting an arrival that both you and her both know will never be. 

Amidst the ambiguity of the video, the clues lie with the lady and the lyrics. In the beginning, she stands looking into the distance with some remnants of hope in her but as time passes, her emotions gradually transition into a sense of absolute loss and defeat. The anguish in her cries feel like our own and in those moments, we feel as delineated with the outside world as she feels standing there. The music video then becomes a blank canvas for the listeners to project their own grief, making them learn more about themselves than they do about the woman. 

The lyrics paint an elusive and hauntingly beautiful picture. As the woman stands alone in the ironically serene place, she is caught off-guard with the painful acknowledgement of what she has lost. The song is subtle and raw. With her past lover asking, ‘do your lips shake when you’re mad’, the guitar strums become heavier as if in knowledge of his familiarity with her. Her gasps become heavier and it’s apparent then that this isn’t merely a wracked confrontation, it’s the past lover making the woman realise her own forgotten personage and her folly of being with someone who neither makes her happy nor knows her. The lyrics, ‘Does his love make your head spin’ are the ending touch to the song. By the third time they’re heard, we witness the poignant climax of Henson’s voice fading and the woman falling to her knees crippled by the loss of a love she can no longer bear. 

Thomson is splendid in her nuanced delivery. The intricacies lie in her silent, subtle and profound acknowledgement to the rhetorical questions she’s asked. Each twitch of her lip and each gaze that she casts makes you stand with bated breath for the moment she will gasp and then fall and break for the only certainty we see in the video is of the woman’s absolute loss and grief. The foreboding of an eternal sense of alienation that the woman will face becomes more absolute as the camera gradually moves away from her in the rolling hills symbolising her seclusion, loneliness and alienation. 

While the song ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’ might seem to be about a past lover asking rhetorical questions, it’s in fact about the loss of a kind of love that’s hard to come by and harder to let go of. The song is a testimony not merely to the loss of the woman in the video but also, the man asking her the questions he already knows the answers to. 

The song is a testimony to Henson’s abilities as a songwriter, composer and singer and is taken to new heights with Thomson’s stellar performance. Henson’s genius lies in his ability to channel emotions into his art. The song which he began with asking his past love, ‘Does he know who you are?’ ends with him asking her, ‘Do you know who you are?’ alluding to the fact that it’s not just that her lover doesn’t know her but also that she doesn’t either. Keaton is simple, real and honest in ‘You Don’t Know How Lucky You Are’. The juxtaposition of the wracked and pleading nature of the lyrics is hauntingly beautiful and with the album critically acclaimed, the BBC rightly said, ‘Keaton Henson isn’t a show-off, but with talent like this, he has every right to be’. 

With six studio albums, a graphic novel and various books of poetry, Henson has made the conscious decision to not be in the limelight due to his anxiety but worry not. He shall resurface time and again just like his Facebook page reads, ‘Keaton (Henson) hides from the world, but has promised to send updates. You’ll know it’s him when it’s handwritten and vaguely cynical.’

~ Ummul Khair

BA (H) English, third year

Posted in Reviews & Analysis

Taylor Swift’s ‘The Man’ Doing a Lot of Manspreading

If the video of The Man triggers you here is why you should in fact be triggered by it. 

Taylor Swift, in her directorial debut, becomes the first solo female to win the MTV 2020 VMA for Best Director. The music video for ‘The Man’ does not shy away from voicing out the toxic masculinity and misogyny existent not only in the music industry but literally everywhere. 

The music video is an outcome of a carefully studied piece of Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. The close resemblance to the white male privilege that Leonardo DiCaprio in the film exercises is undoubtedly there in video’s male lead ‘Tyler.’. “I’d be just like Leo, in Saint-Tropez” sings Swift. It is a satirical commentary on society’s low standards for men, how people are immune to these men bossing them around. It is deemed normal or even expected and praised, whereas women in the same positions are labelled ‘bitchy’, and ‘just too emotional’. “When everyone believes ya, what’s that like?” asks Taylor, because in large aspects this concept is alien for women around the globe.

Women are more than often told to occupy the least amount of space possible, not to force opinions, not to be loud, to be pretty and quiet. While the men can ‘Manspread’ all they want and no one dares question their guts. This is precisely what Swift depicts in the subway scene which makes for an absolute applaud worthy script.

Taylor is known for dropping Easter eggs in her music videos and the references to her own experiences in a male dominated music industry in The Man are anything but subtle. The 13th Street Station wall (where ‘Tyler’ takes a piss) names all the albums whose masters are now owned by Scooter Braun, graffitied around a ‘no scooters’ sign. Back in June 2019, Scott Borchetta, the founder of Big Machine Records, which had signed the popstar in 2005, sold the company to Braun in a $300 million deal. Taylor has claimed that when she left the record label in 2018, she tried to buy the rights to her music but failed. She stated that she eventually made peace with the fact that her older music will be sold but never did she imagine it or even consent for it to be sold to Braun, who managed rapper Kanye West, when he wrote a song lyric that called Swift a “b….” and made a music video that depicted her naked. “Missing if found, return to Taylor Swift” says a poster on the same wall. 

“They would toast to me, oh, Let the players play” sings Taylor in a scene where our leading man Tyler is surrounded by women, giving a Dan Bilzerian vibe; an ‘alpha man’ who is an inspiration to many men around the world because of his lavish lifestyle. This is a commentary on sexism that Swift has personally faced where she has been more often than not criticized for having a long list of ex boyfriends and shamed for it. Where men are encouraged by society to have several lovers, women are humiliated for the same. Moreover, Swifts identity is built around her past relationships rather than her successful career as an artist. 

The message Swift conveys is this – if she was a man, people wouldn’t view her as anything other than successful; she’d be ‘The Man’. 

Swift’s intellectual vision as the writer and director of the music video goes on to comment on other avenues of existent and internalised misogyny amongst women themselves, especially in scenes such as the hallway of hands. It is a reference to Roman Polanski’s 1965 film Repulsion, where a woman has a nightmare about all these grabby hands coming out of the walls. For Tyler it’s just an opportunity to high five, a congratulations for the woman in his bed. It’s a hall of fame for him but a walk of shame for the woman. Then there is the marriage scene where no one bats an eye when a 78 year old man marries a 20 something woman, but everyone is appalled when a woman is in a relationship with a man even 10 years younger than her. 

The tennis scene is quite interesting, where Tyler’s childish outbursts (compared to John McEnroe’s), racket breaking and berating the umpire only leads to people rolling eyes or fouling him.  Women on the other hand are penalized for showing even the slightest bit of rage on the carpet (reference to Serena Williams being fined $17,000 at 2018 U.S. Open for firing back at an official who accused her of cheating). 
In the scene at the fountain, Tyler can be seen being praised for his bare minimum standards of parental care whereas women are etched into the familial system as sacrificial figures. It is an explicit commentary on how society responds to one gender vs. another.

 A treat at the end, in her final shot, Taylor leaves no stone unturned. In roles reversed, Swift (Director, Writer, and OWNER of the mv) closes with telling Tyler (who is in fact none other than Taylor Swift herself) “to be sexier, more likeable this time.” She praises Loren Gray for literally just standing there idly. The scene reflects how women are never enough, as hard as they might try to be, and men are praised for simply existing. 

Taylor Swift as The Man herself, with a cigarette, in a suit, legs spread open, was not something we’d have expected but definitely needed in 2020. 

~ Savvi Singhal
BA Hons Philosophy, 3rd year