Archivo de la categoría: Cine

From 2019 to 2049 – Back to the Future

FUTURISTIC  Blade Runner

THE view of the future offered by Ridley Scott’s muddled yet mesmerizing »Blade Runner» is as intricately detailed as anything a science-fiction film has yet envisioned. The year is 2019, the place Los Angeles, the landscape garish but bleak. The city is a canyon bounded by industrial towers, some of which belch fire. Advertising billboards, which are everywhere, now feature lifelike electronic people who are the size of giants. The police cruise both horizontally and vertically on their patrol routes, but there is seldom anyone to arrest, because the place is much emptier than it used to be. In an age of space travel, anyone with the wherewithal has presumably gone away. Only the dregs remain.

»Blade Runner» begins with a stunning shot of this futuristic city, accompanied by the rumbling of Vangelis’s eerie, highly effective score. It proceeds to tell the story of Rick Deckard and his battle with the replicants, a story based on Philip K. Dick’s novel »Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?» In brief: replicants are manmade creatures that possess all human attributes except feelings. They have been built to serve as slaves in Earth colonies that are Off World, i.e., elsewhere. Whenever the replicants rebel, the job of eliminating them is given to a special, skilled hunter. This expert is called a blade runner.

Rick Deckard is the best of the blade runners, now retired. He is as hard-boiled as any film noir detective, with much the same world view. So when he is told, at the beginning of »Blade Runner,» that an especially dangerous group of replicants is on the loose, and is offered the job of hunting them, he can’t say no. Even in the murkiest reaches of science-fiction lore, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

»Blade Runner,» which opens today at the Criterion Center and other theaters, follows Deckard’s love affair with a beautiful replicant named Rachael, who is special assistant to the high-level industrialist who created her. It also follows Deckard’s tracking down of the runaways, most notably their white-haired, demoniclooking leader, Batty (Rutger Hauer). These events involve quite a bit of plot, but they’re nothing in the movie’s excessively busy overall scheme. »Blade Runner» is crammed to the gills with much more information than it can hold.

Science-fiction devotees may find »Blade Runner» a wonderfully meticulous movie and marvel at the comprehensiveness of its vision. Even those without a taste for gadgetry cannot fail to appreciate the degree of effort that has gone into constructing a film so ambitious and idiosyncratic. The special effects are by Douglas Trumbull, Richard Yuricich and David Dryer, and they are superb. So is Laurence G. Paull’s production design. But »Blade Runner» is a film that special effects could have easily run away with, and run away with it they have.

And it’s also a mess, at least as far as its narrative is concerned. Almost nothing is explained coherently, and the plot has great lapses, from the changeable nature of one key character to the frequent disappearances of another. The story lurches along awkwardly, helped not at all by some ponderous stabs at developing Deckard’s character. As an old-fashioned detective cruising his way through the space age, Deckard is both tedious and outre.

At several points in the story, Deckard is called on to wonder whether Rachael has feelings. This seems peculiar, because the icy, poised Rachael, played by Sean Young as a 1940’s heroine with spaceage trimmings, seems a lot more expressive than Deckard, who is played by Harrison Ford. Mr. Ford is, for a movie so darkly fanciful, rather a colorless hero; he fades too easily into the bleak background. And he is often upstaged by Rutger Hauer, who in this film and in »Night Hawks» appears to be specializing in fiendish roles. Mr. Hauer is properly cold-blooded here, but there is something almost humorous behind his nastiness. In any case, he is by far the most animated performer in a film intentionally populated by automatons.

Mr. Scott, who made his mark in »Alien» by showing a creature bursting forth from the body of one of its victims, tries hard to hit the same note here. One scene takes place in an eyeball factory. Two others show Deckard in vicious, sadistic fights with women. One of these fights features strange calisthenics and unearthly shrieks.

The end of the film is both gruesome and sentimental. Mr. Scott can’t have it both ways, any more than he can expect overdecoration to carry a film that has neither strong characters nor a strong story. That hasn’t stopped him from trying, even if it perhaps should have.


Blade Runner’s chillingly prescient vision of the future

Can corporations become so powerful that they dictate the way we feel? Can machines get mad – like, really mad – at their makers? Can people learn to love machines?

These are a few of the questions raised by Ridley Scott’s influential sci-fi neo-noir film “Blade Runner” (1982), which imagines a corporation whose product tests the limits of the machine-man divide.

Looking back at the original theatrical release of “Blade Runner” – just as its sequel, “Blade Runner 2049” opens in theaters – I’m struck by the original’s ambivalence about technology and its chillingly prescient vision of corporate attempts to control human feelings.

From machine killer to machine lover

Even though the film was tepidly received at the time of its release, its detractors agreed that its imagining of Los Angeles in 2019 was wonderfully atmospheric and artfully disconcerting. Looming over a dingy, rain-soaked City of Angels is Tyrell Corporation, whose namesake, Dr. Tyrell (Joe Turkel), announces, “Commerce is our goal here at Tyrell. More human than human is our motto.”

Tyrell creates robots called replicants, which are difficult to differentiate from humans. They are designed to be worker-slaves – with designations like “combat model” or “pleasure model” – and to expire after four years.

Batty (Rutger Hauer) and Pris (Darryl Hannah) are two members of a small cohort of rebelling replicants who escape their enslavement and hope to extend their lives beyond the four years allotted them by their makers. These replicant models even possess fake memories, which Tyrell implanted as a way to buffer the machine’s anxieties. Instead, the memories create a longing for an unattainable future. The machines want to be treated like people, too.

Deckard (Harrison Ford), a policeman (and maybe a replicant too), is tasked with eliminating the escaped machines. During his search, he meets a special replicant who lacks the corporate safeguard of a four-year lifespan: the beautiful Rachael (Sean Young), who shoots and kills one of her own in order to save Deckard. This opens the door for Deckard to acknowledge growing feelings towards a machine who has developed the will to live and love beyond the existence imagined for her by Tyrell Corp.

The greatest challenge to Deckard comes from combat model Batty, who has demonstrably more passion for existence than the affectless Deckard.

The film’s climax is a duel to the death between Deckard and Batty, in which Batty ends up not just sparing but saving Deckard. As Deckard watches Batty expire, he envies the replicant’s lust for life at the very moment it escapes him. Batty seems more human than the humans in this world, but Tyrell’s motto is both clue and trap.

Deckard’s end-of-film decision to escape with Rachael defies the rules of the corporation and of society. But it’s also an acknowledgment of the successful, seamless integration of machine and human life.

“Blade Runner” imagines a world in which human machines are created to serve people, but Deckard’s interactions with these replicants reveals the thinness of the line: He goes from being on assignment as a machine killer to falling in love with a machine.

A world succumbing to machines

Today, the relationship between corporations, machines and humans defines modern life in ways that Ridley Scott – even in his wildest and most dystopic imagination – couldn’t have forecast in 1982.

In “Blade Runner,” implanted memories are propped up by coveted (but fake) family photos. Yet a world in which memory is fragile and malleable seems all too possible and familiar. Recent studies have shown that people’s memories are increasingly susceptible to being warped by social media misinformation, whether it’s stories of fake terrorist attacks or Muslims celebrating after 9/11. When this misinformation spreads on social media networks, it can create and reinforce false collective memories, fomenting a crisis of reality that can skew election results or whip up small town hysteria.

Meanwhile, Facebook has studied how it can manipulate the way its users feel – and yet over a billion people a day log on to willingly participate in its massive data collection efforts.

Our entrancement with technology might seem less dramatic than the full-blown love affair that Scott imagined, but it’s no less all-consuming. We often prioritize our smartphones over human social interactions, with millennials checking their phones over 150 times a day. In fact, even as people increasingly feel that they cannot live without their smartphones, many say that the devices are ruining their relationships.

And at a time when we’re faced with the likelihood of being unable to differentiate between what’s real and what’s fake – a world of Twitter bots and doctored photographs, trolling and faux-outrage, mechanical pets and plastic surgery – we might be well served by recalling Deckard’s first conversation upon arriving at Tyrell Corp. Spotting an owl, Deckard asks, “It’s artificial?” Rachael replies, not skipping a beat, “Of course it is.”

In “Blade Runner,” reality no longer really matters.

How much longer will it matter to us?



In 1982, Blade Runner floored audiences with its technodystopian depiction of the future. Almost 40 years on, some of these projections seem eerily accurate

“Early in the 21st Century, THE TYRELL CORPORATION advanced robot evolution into the NEXUS phase – a being virtually identical to a human known as a Replicant. … After a bloody mutiny by a NEXUS 6 combat team in an Off-World colony, Replicants were declared illegal on earth – under penalty of death…This was not called execution. It was called retirement.”
– opening text of “Blade Runner” (1982)

Ridley Scott’s 1982 cult classic film, Blade Runner, takes us into a dystopian future that humankind has brought on itself through the rapid, unrestrained and ultimately chaotic development of new technologies.

First and foremost, this sci-fi noir film explores the dangers, uncertainties and moral and ethical ambiguities surrounding the creation of advanced Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The interactions between humans and the advanced androids, known as Replicants, portray a world in which the line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ people is inextricably blurred.

In doing so, Blade Runner questions what it fundamentally means to be human, following four Replicants who have returned to Earth to meet their maker.

Blade Runner Rick Deckard (Harrison Ford) is then tasked with tracking down and eliminating the rogue AIs, who are asserting their right to live in a society that doesn’t recognise them as real people.

What is startling to remember is that the film was set in 2019. So today, well past that date, can the dark predictions of Blade Runner provoke a reflection and even a deeper understanding of our relationship with technology? How successful is art and film at predicting our future?


The Replicants of Blade Runner, as the name suggests, are essentially AI systems given advanced bioengineered bodies designed to replicate the physical abilities and intellectual capacities of humans. They’re put in dangerous scenarios without the need to risk actual human lives.

Despite many advances in this technology, these highly intelligent androids are far from existing in our world. The technology today, three years after the setting of Blade Runner, is still far from creating actual Artificially Intelligent beings.

Beings like this – sometimes called general AI – are beyond the scope of our modern AI systems and technologies available today.

AI, as we know it, consists of technologies like machine learning algorithms, natural language processing and computer vision technologies. This can work in surprising and sophisticated ways by identifying patterns and correlations to predict outcomes.

But AI is very far from understanding humans or having its own thoughts and feelings. The robots we interact with are more likely to be the cute but inert Paro aged care seal or the somewhat creepy Boston Dynamic dancing dog.

While technologists might still mull over the existence of potentially dangerous ‘almost humans’ that are nearly impossible to distinguish from ‘real’ humans, experts in the field are more concerned about the hidden black box workings of manipulative and prejudiced algorithms that are making decisions about our jobs, money and freedom.

Experts are concerned too over the digital platforms sitting in moats of data that give them the ability to manipulate what we buy or how we vote.


Although Replicants may still only exist in the realms of fantasy, Blade Runner still prompts relevant questions about human-computer interactions and the ethics of AI.

In the world of Blade Runner, Replicants are simply tools that are to be used for the benefit of their owners. So, killing a Replicant isn’t referred to as execution like “real” people – they are “retired”. And yet, the design of the Replicants intrinsically, yet also paradoxically, challenges their status as mere non-human tools and property.

Replicants are purposefully designed to be “virtually identical” to humans. They look like humans, speak like humans and without investigation from a Blade Runner, are indistinguishable from humans.

And this idea goes strictly against ethical design for AI or robotic systems.

Many contemporary scholars of AI or robot ethics see something inherently deceptive about this mimicry, which both insults the human interacting with the robot and may also degrade the robot’s innate humanity.

What does it mean if, on deciding that a robot which strongly resembles a human is non-human, a human engages in cruel or vicious treatment of that robot? In the real world, it’s been suggested that one of the new ‘laws of robotics’ should require a robot to always identify itself as a robot, ultimately responsible to the humans who deployed it.


These questions are interesting in understanding our relationships with technology and what it is to be human. But the questions prompted by the Replicants and their relationship with Blade Runner also have real and current applications.

Should the chatbots we interact with dealing with banking, telco and airline providers identify themselves as artificial? What about Alexa? Google’s AI system, Duplex, was met with controversy after demonstrating it could book a restaurant because many felt that the deception involved in this practice was inherently wrong.

In Blade Runner, Deckard’s relationship with Rachael also reflects this concern, raising questions about whether AI should mimic human affection and emotion in their language.

The ethical and moral standing of a robot is questioned in many films, and in literature and art. And often sci-fi films like Blade Runner depict robots with genuine thoughts, feelings and emotions as well as the deeply human desire to fight for their own survival.

Although humanoid robots are not likely in the foreseeable future, we do need laws to deal with the consequences of the hidden black box algorithms that are increasingly informing government and private sector decisions. For humans, there are many laws and regulations that exist for our own protection – so should we have the same laws for robots?


Baby, the Rain Must Fall

The visionary sci-fi movie “Blade Runner” has its own look, and a place in film history.

Ridley Scott, the director of the futuristic thriller “Blade Runner,” sets up the action with a crawl announcing that the time is early in the twenty-first century, and that a blade runner is a police officer who “retires”—i.e., kills—“replicants,” the powerful humanoids manufactured by genetic engineers, if they rebel against their drudgery in the space colonies and show up on Earth. A title informs us that we’re in Los Angeles in the year 2019, and then Scott plunges us into a hellish, claustrophobic city that has become a cross between Newark and old Singapore. The skies are polluted, and there’s a continual drenching rainfall. The air is so rotten that it’s dark outside, yet when we’re inside, the brightest lights are on the outside, from the giant searchlights scanning the city and shining in. A huge, squat pyramidal skyscraper (the new architecture appears to be Mayan and Egyptian in inspiration) houses the offices of the Tyrell Corporation, which produces those marvels of energy the replicants, who are faster and stronger than human beings, and even at the top, in the penthouse of Tyrell himself, there’s dust hanging in the smoky air. (You may find yourself idly wondering why this bigwig inventor can’t produce a humble little replicant to do some dusting.)

The congested-megalopolis sets are extraordinary, and they’re lovingly, perhaps obsessively, detailed; this is the future as a black market, made up of scrambled sordid aspects of the past—Chinatown, the Casbah, and Times Square, with an enormous, mesmerizing ad for Coca-Cola, and Art Deco neon signs everywhere, in a blur of languages. “Blade Runner,” which cost thirty million dollars, has its own look, and a visionary sci-fi movie that has its own look can’t be ignored—it has its place in film history. But we’re always aware of the sets as sets, partly because although the impasto of decay is fascinating, what we see doesn’t mean anything to us. (It’s 2019 back lot.) Ridley Scott isn’t great on mise en scène—we’re never sure exactly what part of the city we’re in, or where it is in relation to the scene before and the scene after. (Scott seems to be trapped in his own alleyways, without a map.) And we’re not caught up in the pulpy suspense plot, which involves the hero, Deckard (Harrison Ford), a former blade runner forced to come back to hunt down four murderous replicants who have blended into the swarming street life. (The term “blade runner” actually comes from the title of a William Burroughs novel, which has no connection with the movie.) It’s a very strange tenderloin that Ridley Scott and his associates have concocted; except for Deckard and stray Hari Krishna-ites and porcupine-headed punks, there are few Caucasians (and not many blacks, either). The population seems to be almost entirely ethnic—poor, hustling Asians and assorted foreigners, who are made to seem not quite degenerate, perhaps, but oddly subhuman. They’re all selling, dealing, struggling to get along; they never look up—they’re intent on what they’re involved in, like slot-machine zealots in Vegas. You know that Deckard is a breed apart, because he’s the only one you see who reads a newspaper. Nothing much is explained (except in that opening crawl), but we get the vague impression that the more prosperous, clean-cut types have gone off-world to some Scarsdale in space.

Here we are—only forty years from now—in a horrible electronic slum, and “Blade Runner” never asks, “How did this happen?” The picture treats this grimy, retrograde future as a given—a foregone conclusion, which we’re not meant to question. The presumption is that man is now fully realized as a spoiler of the earth. The sci-fi movies of the past were often utopian or cautionary; this film seems indifferent, blasé, and maybe, like some of the people in the audience, a little pleased by this view of a medieval future—satisfied in a slightly vengeful way. There’s a subject, though, lurking around the comic-strip edges: What does it mean to be human? Tracking down the replicants, who are assumed not to have any feelings, Deckard finds not only that they suffer and passionately want to live but that they are capable of acts of generosity. They have become far more human than the scavenging people left on Earth. Maybe Scott and the scriptwriters (Hampton Fancher and David Peoples), who adapted the 1968 novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” by the late Philip K. Dick, shied away from this subject because it has sticky, neo-Fascist aspects. But this underlying idea is the only promising one in the movie, and it has a strong visual base: when a manufactured person looks just like a person born of woman—when even the eyes don’t tell you which is which—how do you define the difference?

Scott’s creepy, oppressive vision requires some sort of overriding idea—something besides spoofy gimmicks, such as having Deckard narrate the movie in the loner-in-the-big-city manner of a Hammett or Chandler private eye. This voice-over, which is said to have been a late addition, sounds ludicrous, and it breaks the visual hold of the material. The dialogue isn’t well handled, either. Scott doesn’t seem to have a grasp of how to use words as part of the way a movie moves. “Blade Runner” is a suspenseless thriller; it appears to be a victim of its own imaginative use of hardware and miniatures and mattes. At some point, Scott and the others must have decided that the story was unimportant; maybe the booming, lewd and sultry score by Chariots-for-Hire Vangelis that seems to come out of the smoke convinced them that the audience would be moved even if vital parts of the story were trimmed. Vangelis gives the picture so much film noir overload that he fights Scott’s imagery; he chomps on it, stomps on it, and drowns it.

“Blade Runner” doesn’t engage you directly; it forces passivity on you. It sets you down in this lopsided maze of a city, with its post-human feeling, and keeps you persuaded that something bad is about to happen. Some of the scenes seem to have six subtexts but no text, and no context, either. There are suggestions of Nicolas Roeg in the odd, premonitory atmosphere, but Roeg gives promise of something perversely sexual. With Scott, it’s just something unpleasant or ugly. The dizzying architectural angles (we always seem to be looking down from perilous heights) and the buglike police cars that lift off in the street and rise straight up in the canyons between the tall buildings and drop down again give us a teasing kind of vertigo. Scott goes much further, though. He uses way-off-kilter angles that produce not nausea, exactly, but a queasiness that prepares us for the feelings of nausea that Deckard is then seen to have. And, perhaps because of the what-is-a-human-being remnant in the story, the picture keeps Deckard—and us—fixated on eyes. (The characters’ perambulations include a visit to the eyemaker who supplies the Tyrell genetic engineers with human eyes, and he turns out to be a wizened old Chinese gent—as if eyemaking were an ancient art. Maybe Tyrell picks up some used elbows in Saigon. His methods of operation for creating replicant slaves out of living cell tissue seem as haphazard as bodywork on wrecked cars.) In Nicolas Roeg’s films, the characters are drained, and they’re left soft and androgynous in an inviting way; Scott squashes his characters, and the dread that he sets up leads you to expect some release, and you know it’s not the release you want.

All we’ve got to hang on to is Deckard, and the moviemakers seem to have decided that his characterization was complete when they signed Harrison Ford for the role. Deckard’s bachelor pad is part of a 1924 Frank Lloyd Wright house with a Mayan motif. Apart from that, the only things we learn about him are that he has inexplicably latched on to private-eye lingo, that he was married, and that he’s tired of killing replicants—it has begun to sicken him. (The piano in his apartment has dozens of family pictures on it, but they’re curiously old-fashioned photos—they seem to go back to the nineteenth century—and we have no idea what happened to all those people.) The film’s visual scale makes the sloppy bit of plot about Deckard going from one oddball place to another as he tracks down the four replicants—two men, two women—seem sort of pitiable. But his encounters with the replicant women are sensationally, violently effective. As Zhora, who has found employment as an artificial-snake charmer, Joanna Cassidy has some of the fine torrid sluttiness she had in “The Late Show.” (Nobody is less like a humanoid than Joanna Cassidy; her Zhora wasn’t manufactured as an adult—she was formed by bitter experience, and that’s what gives her a screen presence.) And, in the one really shocking and magical sequence, Daryl Hannah, as the straw-haired, acrobatic Pris, does a punk variation on Olympia, the doll automaton of “The Tales of Hoffmann.”

The two male replicants give the movie problems. Leon (Brion James, who brings a sweaty wariness and suggestions of depth to the role) has found a factory job at the Tyrell Corporation itself, and his new employers, suspecting that he may be a renegade replicant, give him a highly sophisticated test. It checks his emotional responses by detecting the contractions of the pupils of his eyes as he attempts to deal with questions about his early life. But this replicant-detector test comes at the beginning of the picture, before we have registered that replicants have no early life. And it seems utterly pointless, since surely the Tyrell Corporation has photographic records of the models it has produced—and, in fact, when the police order Deckard to find and retire the four he is shown perfectly clear pictures of them. It might have been much cannier to save any testing until later in the movie, when Deckard has doubts about a very beautiful dark-eyed woman—Tyrell’s assistant, Rachael, played by Sean Young. Rachael, who has the eyes of an old Murine ad, seems more of a zombie than anyone else in the movie, because the director tries to pose her the way von Sternberg posed Dietrich, but she saves Deckard’s life, and even plays his piano. (She smokes, too, but then the whole atmosphere is smoking.) Rachael wears vamped-up versions of the mannish padded-shoulder suits and the sleek, stiff hairdos and ultra-glossy lipstick of career girls in forties movies; her shoulder comes into a room a long time before she does. And if Deckard had felt compelled to test her responses it could have been the occasion for some nifty repartee; she might have been spirited and touching. Her role is limply written, though; she’s cool at first, but she spends most of her screen time looking mysteriously afflicted—wet-eyed with yearning—and she never gets to deliver a zinger. I don’t think she even has a chance to laugh. The moviemakers haven’t learned that wonderful, simple trick of bringing a character close to the audience by giving him a joke or having him overreact to one. The people we’re watching are so remote from us they might be shadows of people who aren’t there.

The only character who gets to display a large range of emotions is the fourth of the killer replicants, and their leader—Roy Batty (the Crazed King?), played by the tall, blue-eyed blond Dutch actor Rutger Hauer, whose hair is lemon-white here. Hauer (who was Albert Speer in “Inside the Third Reich” on television last May) stares all the time; he also smiles ominously, hoo-hoos like a mad owl and howls like a wolf, and, at moments, appears to see himself as the god Pan, and as Christ crucified. He seems a shoo-in for this year’s Klaus Kinski Scenery-Chewing Award. As a humanoid in a homicidal rage because replicants are built to last only four years, he stalks through the movie like an evil Aryan superman; he brings the wrong kind of intensity to the role—an effete, self-aware irony so overscaled it’s Wagnerian. His gaga performance is an unconscious burlesque that apparently passes for great acting with the director, especially when Hauer turns noble sufferer and poses like a big hunk of sculpture. (It’s a wonder he doesn’t rust out in all that rain.) This sequence is particularly funny because there’s poor Harrison Ford, with the fingers of one hand broken, reduced to hanging on to bits of the cornice of a tall building by his one good hand—by then you’ve probably forgotten that he is Harrison Ford, the fellow who charms audiences by his boundless good humor—while the saucer-eyed Hauer rants and carries on. Ford is like Harold Lloyd stuck by mistake in the climax of “Duel in the Sun.”

Ridley Scott may not notice that when Hauer is onscreen the camera seems stalled and time breaks down, because the whole movie gives you a feeling of not getting anywhere. Deckard’s mission seems of no particular consequence. Whom is he trying to save? Those sewer-rat people in the city? They’re presented as so dehumanized that their life or death hardly matters. Deckard feels no more connection with them than Ridley Scott does. They’re just part of the film’s bluish-gray, heavy-metal chic—inertia made glamorous. Lead zeppelins could float in this smoggy air. And maybe in the moviemakers’ heads, too. Why is Deckard engaged in this urgent hunt? The replicants are due to expire anyway. All the moviemakers’ thinking must have gone into the sets. Apparently, the replicants have a motive for returning to Earth: they’re trying to reach Tyrell—they hope he can extend their life span. So if the police want to catch them, all they need to do is wait for them to show up at Tyrell’s place. And why hasn’t Deckard, the ace blade runner, figured out that if the replicants can’t have their lives extended they may want revenge for their slave existence, and that all he’s doing is protecting Tyrell? You can dope out how the story might have been presented, with Deckard as the patsy who does Tyrell’s dirty work; as it is, you can’t clear up why Tyrell isn’t better guarded—and why the movie doesn’t pull the plot strands together.

“Blade Runner” is musty even while you’re looking at it (and noting its relationship to Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” and to von Sternberg’s lighting techniques, and maybe to Polanski’s “Chinatown” and “Fellini’s Roma,” and so on). There are some remarkable images—for example, when the camera plays over the iron grillwork of the famous Bradbury Building in Los Angeles the iron looks tortured into shape. These images are part of the sequences about a lonely, sickly young toymaker, Sebastian (William Sanderson), who lives in the deserted building. Sebastian has used the same techniques employed in producing replicants to make living toy companions for himself, and since the first appearance of these toys has some charm, we wait to see them in action again. When the innocent, friendly Sebastian is in danger, we expect the toys to come to his aid or be upset or, later, try to take reprisals for what happens to their creator, or at least grieve. We assume that moviemakers wouldn’t go to all the trouble of devising a whole batch of toy figures only to forget about them. But this movie loses track of the few expectations it sets up, and the formlessness adds to a viewer’s demoralization—the film itself seems part of the atmosphere of decay. “Blade Runner” has nothing to give the audience—not even a second of sorrow for Sebastian. It hasn’t been thought out in human terms. If anybody comes around with a test to detect humanoids, maybe Ridley Scott and his associates should hide. With all the smoke in this movie, you feel as if everyone connected with it needs to have his flue cleaned.


Are we living in a Blade Runner world?

The 1982 sci-fi film imagined a dystopian metropolis in November 2019. But, now we’ve caught up, to what extent did it really predict our present reality, asks David Barnett.

The city stretches as far as the eye can see; the lights in the packed-together buildings shine – unlike the stars which are invisible in the smog-filled night sky… Flames belch from gigantic industrial towers. A vehicle flies into the scene, then out again, heading towards two monstrous pyramids.

An increasingly anxious man undergoes a verbal test conducted by his supervisor at the Tyrell Corporation, housed in the vast ziggurats. It doesn’t end well. We cut to another flying car, negotiating the narrow avenues of the city, framed against a digital hoarding, storeys-tall, featuring an Asian woman advertising snack foods. A booming voice cheerfully tells the unseen but presumably multitudinous denizens of this strange future world that a new life awaits them in the off-world colonies.

Except, of course, it isn’t the future, not any more. This is Blade Runner, the 1982 movie directed by Ridley Scott: (very loosely) based on Philip K Dick’s 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, and telling the story of Rick Deckard, a cop who works for the LAPD, tracking down and ‘retiring’ replicants – genetically-engineered, almost-human artificial people whose presence on Earth is illegal, following a replicant revolt on one of Earth’s off-world colonies.

This may sound far-flung from our own reality, but as the opening credits tell us, the film is set in Los Angeles, November 2019. In that sense, Blade Runner is no longer science fiction. It’s a contemporary thriller. The question is: in the 37 years between Blade Runner’s release and its setting – our present – how close have we come to the future presented in the movie?

On one hand, there are parts of its vision of 2019 that feel jarringly old-fashioned. There is no internet, and when we first meet Deckard he’s reading an actual newspaper, sheltering from the rain by the window of a shop that is selling bulky old cathode-ray television sets. Meanwhile when Deckard performs the Voight-Kampff test – an examination designed to distinguish replicants from humans via their emotional responses to verbal questioning  – on Sean Young’s Rachael, the assistant of Eldon Tyrell, the boss of the company that makes replicants, she is smoking! A cigarette! In an office!

The world of Blade Runner is one in which the fictional Tyrell conglomerate dominates alongside other, real-life corporations, that feature on some of the film’s massive neon advertising hoardings – tempting fate as to whether the businesses active in 1982 would still be going in 2019. Coca-Cola was a fairly safe bet, but PanAm, whose logo we glimpse in the opening scene, wasn’t; the airline went out of business in 1991.

On the other hand, we are still catching up with much of its technology, of course – though some elements are now not far beyond the bounds of possibility. A German company, Lilium, announced last month that the flying car it is developing could be in use as a taxi service by the year 2025. We don’t have artificial humans, but we have been making huge strides in gene-editing, causing concern in some quarters. And we don’t need the Voight-Kampff test yet, but how many times have you been asked to mark all the traffic lights on a grid picture to prove you’re not a robot, and gain access to a website?

What the film gets right

However, beyond particular components, Blade Runner arguably gets something much more fundamental right, which is the world’s socio-political outlook in 2019 – and that isn’t particularly welcome, according to Michi Trota, who is a media critic and the non-fiction editor of the science-fiction periodical, Uncanny Magazine.

“It’s disappointing, to say the least, that what Blade Runner ‘predicted’ accurately is a dystopian landscape shaped by corporate influence and interests, mass industrialisation’s detrimental effect on the environment, the police state, and the whims of the rich and powerful resulting in chaos and violence, suffered by the socially marginalised.”

In the movie the replicants have a fail-safe programmed into them – a lifespan of just four years – to prevent a further revolution. Trota believes there is “something prescient in the replicants’ frustration and rage at their shortened lifespans, resulting from corporate greed and indifference, that’s echoed in the current state of US healthcare and globalised exploitation of workers.” She adds: “I’d have vastly preferred the flying cars instead.”

As for the devastating effects of pollution and climate change evident in Blade Runner, as well as its 2017 sequel Blade Runner 2049, “the environmental collapse the film so vividly depicts is not too far off from where we are today,” says science-fiction writer and software developer Matthew Kressel, pointing to the infamous 2013 picture of the Beijing smog that looks like a cut frame from the film. “And we’re currently undergoing the greatest mass extinction since the dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. In addition, the film’s depiction of haves and have-nots, those who are able to live comfortable lives, while the rest live in squalor, is remarkably parallel to the immense disparity in wealth between the world’s richest and poorest today. In that sense, the film is quite accurate.”

Accurate about where, though? Blade Runner’s Los Angeles is a cultural melange, with heavy Eastern influences, and a street-level argot called Cityspeak that is a mish-mash of Japanese, Spanish, German, Korean, among other languages. Trota, who is Filipino-American, says the film is an example of “how pervasive the use of ‘exotic Asian pastiche’ is in science-fiction stories that seem to have no problem with taking the surface bits of non-European cultures to ‘spice things up’, while neglecting to include any significant characters of colour in those stories”.

As in Kressel’s comment above, Beijing has been a frequent reference point when discussing Blade Runner’s metropolis – and that’s where award-winning science-fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal has just returned from. Is the Chinese megacity more representative of the Blade Runner aesthetic than present-day LA, I wonder? “The smog was no joke, so in that respect, yes,” says Kowal. “But in the parts of Beijing that I was in, I saw a significant overlap of the old and the new. Each seemed equally celebrated. Aside from the air quality, it was a clean, modern city, interwoven with historic areas.”

What’s the point of sci-fi?

Is the question of whether Blade Runner in 1982 correctly predicted the world of 2019 even a valid one, though? Is it science fiction’s job to be predictive, or to just entertain? Or, perhaps, something more?

Kowal says she is less interested in the genre’s literally predictive qualities than in the opportunities it offers as “a playground for thought experiments. It allows us to tip our world to the side and look at the interconnected tissues and then draw logical chains of causality into the future. The best SF remains relevant, not because of the technology in it, but because of the questions it forces us to ask. Blade Runner, for instance, is asking about the morality of creating sentient life for the purpose of enslaving it.”

Trota agrees science fiction’s real potency lies in the wider philosophical issues it explores. “It can often be about the future, it can be ‘predictive’ but those predictions are also very much reflective of our grappling with present day issues, as well as our past. If there’s any ‘job’ that science fiction – and fantasy – has, to paraphrase authors Ijeoma Oluo and NK Jemisin, it’s to help us imagine entirely new ways of being, to move beyond reflexively recreating our past so we can envision other ways of living outside the systems, oppressions, and societal defaults we’ve internalised and normalised.”

Kowal’s latest novels, The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky, envisage an alternate-history US, where a woman mathematician and pilot leads humanity’s mission to colonise other worlds, as an apocalyptic climate change bears down on the Earth. The author says that Blade Runner “shaped a lot of our ideas of what ‘the future’ looks like… If we think of broad strokes, I think it did surprisingly well. Pollution, talking to our computers, corporations running the country, and the ethical questions of who is considered a person. If we talk about specifics? Flying cars exist but are always going to be a terrible idea, so I’m fine with not having those in the mainstream.”

If not necessarily predictive, science fiction can also prove to have a symbiotic relationship with the present. Kowal says, “So many people in STEM fields cite science-fiction films or books as their inspiration for an invention. Did Star Trek invent the flip phone, or cause it to come into being? Did 1984 predict the Big Brother state or prevent it from being pervasive?”

And it can also provide a warning for us to mend our ways. Nobody, surely, would want to live in the November 2019 depicted by Blade Runner, would they? Don’t be too sure, says Kressel.

“In a way, Blade Runner can be thought of as the ultimate cautionary tale,” he says. “Has there ever been a vision so totally bleak, one that shows how environmental degradation, dehumanisation and personal estrangement are so harmful to the future of the world?

“And yet, if anything, Blade Runner just shows the failure of the premise that cautionary tales actually work. Instead, we have fetishised Blade Runner’s dystopian vision. Look at most art depicting the future across literature, film, visual art, and in almost all of them you will find echoes of Blade Runner’s bleak dystopia.

“Blade Runner made dystopias ‘cool’, and so here we are, careening toward environmental collapse one burned hectare of rainforest at a time. If anything, I think we should be looking at why we failed to heed its warning.”


Blade Runner 2049: The Mysteries Deepen

The good news about life on Earth, thirty-two years from now, is that people still listen to Frank Sinatra. In “Blade Runner 2049,” the land is the color of a corpse, and the skies are no better. The only tree is sapless and dead, and the only farmer is harvesting weevils for protein. The Voice, however, is unimpaired. True, Sinatra is no more than a hologram, crooning to a couple of folks in the shell of a Las Vegas hot spot, and yet, when he sings the words “Set ’em up, Joe,” you soften and melt as if it were 1954 and he were singing them to Doris Day, hushing a crowded room, in “Young at Heart.”

By a nice twist, there is a Joe around. He’s with the L.A.P.D., and he’s officially called KD6.3-7 (Ryan Gosling), or K, for short, but somebody suggests Joe, and it lends him a little flavor. He needs a real name, not least because it makes him sound like a real person—shades of Pinocchio, who longed to be a real boy. In fact, K is a Blade Runner: a synthetic human known as a replicant, physically redoubtable and emotionally dry, whose job is to find and to “retire” (a ghoulish euphemism) any early-model replicants who are still out there. They have “open-ended lifespans,” and immortality, as ever, is not to be trusted. Such is the premise of Denis Villeneuve’s ambitious sequel to Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner,” which came out in 1982 and was set, with startling powers of premonition, in 2019. It starred Harrison Ford as Deckard, a cop who hunted down rogue replicants across Los Angeles—a joyless Babel, blitzed by neon glare and lashed by the whip of dirty rain. That was the future back then. How’s it looking now?

Well, the rain hasn’t stopped. Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink; most of it is contaminated, and when K takes a shower it’s over in a two-second blast. The director of photography, Roger Deakins, delights in drowning our senses: enemies clash by night in a frothing torrent, at the foot of a dam, and, in one telling image, K’s boss, Lieutenant Joshi (Robin Wright), is barely visible through a window, such is the deluge streaming across the panes. “It is my job to keep order,” she says, and that order is coming adrift. K has been sent out of town to confront a hulking replicant named Sapper Morton. (He is played by Dave Bautista, who gets better and more solid, if that is possible, with every film.) What K discovers, buried on Morton’s property, is a box of bones, and what the bones reveal is unthinkable: a secret that could undermine the near-fascistic system, upheld by Joshi, whereby replicants do the bidding of humanity. If replicants were to rise up or—perish the thought—to reproduce, there might be no way to contain them.

Not that the film is a hymn to revolution. It runs for nearly three hours, and it looms as large as an epic, with a score, by Hans Zimmer and Benjamin Wallfisch, that feels at times like an onslaught of monumental thuds. Yet the bastions of power—the corporate ziggurats of L.A., cliff-high and elephant gray, which viewers of the first film will recall with awe—remain in place, unbreached, and the hordes at ground level seethe not with a lust for liberation but with a busy trade in high-tech assistance and lowly sexual favors. Moreover, the plot is a small and coiled affair, involving a missing child, and the mood is as inward as anything in the annals of Philip Marlowe, with a dose of Marlowe’s glum self-bullying, as K investigates not only historical crimes but his own potential presence in the labyrinth of the past. The movie doesn’t seem slow, but its clues are minuscule—a single piano key depressed beside its neighbors, a serial number visible only under a microscope—and the action sequences flare up against a backdrop of inaction and an existential dread of getting stuck. The result is at once consuming and confounding, a private puzzle cached inside a blockbuster.

One coup, for Villeneuve, is the return of Harrison Ford, as Deckard. The surprise was sprung in a trailer, months ago, raising expectations that the new movie might clear up the conundrum that has plagued the brains of “Blade Runner” fans since 1982: Is Deckard himself a replicant? I am pleased to report that I still can’t decide. Undying he may or may not be, but he is certainly aging, with a halting gait and a bottle of Johnnie Walker close at hand. He lives alone with—guess what—a shaggy dog, pouring whiskey onto the floor for the mutt to lap at. Ford is splendidly grizzled and gruff, giving the film a necessary rasp, and he even shakes up Ryan Gosling. I happen to like Gosling in hangdog mode, when he yields to the pressure of sentiment, as in “Blue Valentine” (2010), but many of his worshippers prefer the cool constraint that he showed in “Drive” (2011), and that is mostly what we get here. K is an android, after all, who can walk away from a bloody fight without a squeak of complaint, and one purpose of the film is to probe that calm façade. Hence the two scenes in which, after a mission, he is interrogated not by a superior but by a computer that stares at him, with an unblinking lens, and performs a “Post-Trauma Baseline Test.” K must respond to certain words and phrases: “Cells,” “Interlinked,” “A Tall White Fountain Played.” The first time he takes the test, he passes. Later in the film, he fails.

What the hell is going on here, and what does it tell us about the relation of “Blade Runner 2049” to the original? Decode the test, and you realize that the computer is quoting verse:

Cells interlinked within cells interlinked
Within one stem. And dreadfully distinct
Against the dark, a tall white fountain played.

The lines come from Nabokov’s “Pale Fire,” a novel that wraps a poem inside a commentary. The mixture is rich in murder and madness, and you can go crazy, too, piecing together the components of the book; what matters is that each gorges on the other, and so it is with the two parts of “Blade Runner.” The second film doesn’t explicate the first so much as compound its mystery, and, in some respects, I envy those who don’t have to wrestle with the comparison. Younger viewers who’ve never seen Scott’s movie will be granted a delicious jolt as the fully formed dystopia rises out of nowhere to greet their virginal gaze. They can relish the spectacle of K’s police car in flight, while we veterans get a kick out of the newfangled drone that detaches from its roof and, at K’s casual command, goes sniffing around like a gundog. And, if the newbies thrill to Sylvia Hoeks as a Terminator-style replicant, assigned to track the hero in his quest, try not to ruin their fun by mentioning Rutger Hauer, who, shouldering a similar role in 1982, brought us the poetry of implacability. The new film’s idea of an arch-villain is Jared Leto, who has milky orbs for eyes, and who gives the impression, as in last year’s “Suicide Squad,” of an actor straining a little too hard, with dialogue to match: “You do not know what pain is. You will learn.”

Despite all the overlaps, this is not a simulacrum of a Ridley Scott film. It is unmistakably a Denis Villeneuve film, inviting us to tumble, tense with anticipation, into his doomy clutches. “Prisoners” (2013) was as welcoming as a dungeon, and, in “Blade Runner 2049,” the light is no longer, as Nabokov had it, “dreadfully distinct / Against the dark,” for the darkness has overcome it. San Diego is a waste dump, and Las Vegas lurks in a tangerine dream of radioactive smog. And yet, within the gloom, what miracles unfold. Brace yourself for the delivery of a new replicant, not born as a baby but slithering out from a plastic sheath as an instant adult, slimy with fabricated vernix and quaking at the shock of being alive. Suddenly, the lofty questions that swarm around artificial intelligence—Could the feelings familiar to mankind abound within the man-made? Could an operating system grow a soul?—reach a breathtaking consummation, and become flesh.

More wondrous still is Ana de Armas, who plays Joi, a digital program that in turn plays K’s live-in girlfriend. It is no coincidence that Villeneuve’s best films, “Sicario” (2015) and “Arrival” (2016), feature a woman at their center, and, whenever Joi appears, the movie’s imaginative heart begins to race. Upon request, she manifests herself in K’s apartment, switching outfits in a shimmer—a vision that smacks of servility, except that it’s he who seems beholden to her. Gosling looks happiest in these scenes, perhaps because happiness, albeit of the simulated sort, hovers within K’s grasp. And what a simulation: at one point, Joi uses an Emanator, which allows her to escape her virtual self and to experience mortal sensations—the prick of rain on her skin, naturally, and a tangible embrace. Has science fiction, you want to ask, ever conjured a moment quite as romantic as this? And how can it possibly last? It can’t; K gets a voice mail that overrides Joi and freezes her, inches short of a kiss. Love is deleted, and the Blade Runner gets back to work. The future, unlike Heaven, can’t wait. 


Blade Runner 2049 – and why eyes are so important in this vision of the future

Even a brief glimpse of Blade Runner 2049 takes you straight into Deckard’s world. Denis Villeneuve’s sequel to Ridley Scott’s sci-fi masterpiece gets the colour palette just right, perfectly capturing the tone of the original.

Achieving the look and feel of the original Blade Runner (1982) is essential because appearances, vision and eyes are key to both the experience and the story.

Blade Runner was ahead of the AI curve when it made sci-fi arguments about identity and philosophy a mainstream concern. Is Deckard a replicant? Do androids have souls? What makes us human?

In the original, seeking answers was all about looking at the eyes. The film’s Voight-Kampff “empathy test”, used by the Blade Runners to identify replicants, now has its own special place in popular culture. The striking image of a glorious blue iris reflecting fire and light has become a cinematic icon; and Rutger Hauer’s emotional final lines when his character, Roy Batty, succumbs to death are a sublime moment in film history:

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Time to die.

And now Blade Runner 2049 appears primed to expand the exploration of eyes and identity with mind-bending visuals. In the neon flashes and noirish glimmers, Jared Leto’s character, Niander Wallace, muses on the act of creating replicants like a blind god. His white irises have a sinister and mysterious beauty, but they also belie any sense of limitation caused by his lack of sight – even though he can’t see, he has the “vision” to create or end life.

David Bowie was actually Villeneuve’s first choice for the Niander Wallace role. Seen as an influence upon Blade Runner “in many ways”, the late singer was also well-known for his distinctive mismatched eyes that gave him an otherworldly persona – an affect Leto created in his own way with “custom made contact lenses that turned his eyes totally opaque”.

Eye spy

Cinema has often used eyes as a visual code for character and morality. Traditionally, damaged eyes tend to represent “baddies” and corruption – suggesting an off-kilter world seen in a dark and dangerous way. The vicious scar Donald Pleasence has around his right eye as a highly memorable Ernst Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967) helps to make him an enduring Bond villain.

The Oscar winning Chinatown (1974), meanwhile, is full of cracked lenses, broken glasses and other means of distorting vision – ending with the disturbing shot of Faye Dunaway, as Evelyn Mulwray, with her eye socket blown apart by a bullet.

And as Carl Fogarty in A History of Violence (2005), Ed Harris relishes showing his scar tissue to the camera as he recalls his eye being ripped out with barbed wire.

Cinema also has its fair share of “old crones” with cataracts setting curses (Drag Me to Hell); blind priests who have forsaken their faith (Father Spiletto in The Omen), and “mutants” with unusual eyes spying on unwitting victims (The Hills Have Eyes).

Computers and robots add a different twist to this psychopathology. The calm red lens of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968); Yul Brenner’s blank metallic eyes in Westworld (1973), and the persistent red dot shining out of Arnie’s silver skull in the original Terminator (1984) all project fear through a sense of the uncanny.

If the thought of a non-human consciousness glimpsed through the eye as a “window to the soul” is consistently unnerving, it is because instead of a human connection there is something else there entirely: the terror and wonder of the unknown.

By contrast, heroes are more likely to benefit from enhanced vision. Christopher Reeve’s Superman (1978) famously has X-ray eyes, while Keanu Reeve’s “Neo” in The Matrix (1999) realises his destiny as “The One” only when he can visualise the code world and see how to change its rules from within.

New look

But our changing perception of eyes and how we see them is also visible onscreen. We now have popular blind superheroes like Daredevil, on film (2003) and TV (2015 onwards), and anti-heroes like Elliot in Mr Robot (2015 onwards) who “sees differently” due to a strange combination of dissociative identity disorder and next-level hacker skills. Rami Malek’s starring eyes, somewhere between the unblinking focus of a screen addict and the wide-eyed paranoia of a drug addict, add a mesmeric quality to his performance of Mr Robot’s complex persona.

Back in Deckard’s increasingly toxic world, it looks like Niander Wallace is set to become an iconic cinematic villain in a film already seen by some as a masterpiece. His cloudy eyes feel well suited to the shadowy undertones of Blade Runner 2049, while his ability to create artificial intelligence offer a dark vision of the future. However bleak an outlook Blade Runner 2049 might visualise, films that look as good as this make it hard to take your eyes off the screen – and offer a glimpse of our future.



Blade Runner 2049, like the original, is about what it means to be human. But the ethical implications of cloning could prophesize an ethically fraught future

In this fictional future, bio-engineered humans are known as replicants. Blade Runners “retire” or kill these replicants when they become a threat to society. In both films, we are left wondering what difference there is between a human and a replicant. In the original, rogue replicant Roy Batty – played by Rutger Hauer –comes across as more human than the humans when he delivers his famous “Tears in the Rain” speech.

I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.


The films raise fundamental questions about personal identity: who are we? What defines the existence of a person from one moment to the next?

Thematically, there is the suggestion that the biological mass, the body, is not what matters, but the mind. In the original, bioengineered Roy seems as human as Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard – as human as someone could be.

In 2049, the idea is extended further still. Officer K – played by Ryan Gosling – has a girlfriend Joi (Ana de Armas) – she is a creation of Artificial Intelligence (AI) but seems as real as the other characters.

In the Blade Runner films, it is the psychological life, the mental states including dispositions, character and memories that matter, not whether one is a natural human or a bioengineered replicant, or even AI. This implies that AI, if it were to become conscious and have the same mental states as us, should be treated as one of us.

These issues of moral status already face us today.

Scientists in the US and Japan are creating pig-human chimeras using a procedure called blastocyst complementation. A pig embryo is taken and gene editing knocks out the genes for an organ, for example the liver.

In the future, a human skin cell could be taken from a person needing a liver transplant. This would be cloned to produce induced pluripotent stem cells of that person and would then be injected into the early pig embryo. The result would be a pig-human chimera where all the cells in the body are a mixture of pig and human, except the liver. The liver would be human and could then be extracted to save the life of a sick person.

The problem is that it is difficult to predict how human or pig the chimeric organs, including the brain, would be. It is possible the brain could be quite human, but the appearance be pig-like.

How such an animal ought to be treated, and whether it is ethical to take its liver, will depend on its mental states. It could be closer to human than to pig. It will, however, be extremely difficult to assess its psychological capabilities and mental states since it would not have direct language.

The pig-human chimera would be a kind of organ replicant. How it should be treated will depend not on its species membership, or what it looks like, but on what kind of mental states it has.


Another issue raised in both films is the unjust treatment of the replicants because they are biologically different, though their mental lives turn out to be very similar to ours. In many ways, they are better than us, more humane.

Our biological origins are irrelevant to our moral status and how we ought to be treated.

I coined the term “clonism” – which describes the poor treatment of clones of existing people compared with non-clones. Clonism is what occurs in Nobel prize winning author, Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel, Never Let Me Go. This issue arose in debates around in vitro fertilisation before the 1978 birth of the world’s first IVF baby.

People worried that “test tube” babies would be discriminated against, teased or treated as socially inferior. They haven’t been and nor of course should they be – the process of conception is irrelevant to their moral status and rights.

This will come up if people are genetically selected or even born as the result of gene editing. What was science fiction in 1982 is fast becoming a reality. The prospect of bioengineering human beings using gene editing is with us.

One possible use would be to prevent catastrophic genetic disease in cases where couples have a sole remaining embryo during IVF. But the possibilities could extend to endowing humans with unprecedented abilities as genes could be transferred or introduced from any part of the animal or plant kingdom.


The moral of the Blade Runner films is that what matters is the quality of mental life, not its biological origins, or even whether it is “original.” In the future, new life forms will exist with mental lives, some of these will be biological in origin and others will arise from AI.

These lives ought to be respected and treated according to psychological properties, not according to physical appearance or the origin of their “hardware.”

In the years since 1982 when Blade Runner was first made, cloning of human beings either by nuclear transfer or embryo splitting has become possible. Genetic selection using whole genome analysis of every gene in the genome is on the horizon.

Gene editing is being done on human embryos and artificial intelligence is increasing exponentially in power. Yet a failure of philosophical understanding of identity and moral status pervades our discussion of these life changing advances in science. Our scientific powers have inordinately increased in the last 35 years but our moral insight has progressed very little.


When The Beatles had A hard day’s night

A hard day’s night

When it opened in September, 1964, «A Hard Day’s Night» was a problematic entry in a disreputable form, the rock ‘n’ roll musical. The Beatles were already a publicity phenomenon (70 million viewers watched them on «The Ed Sullivan Show»), but they were not yet cultural icons. Many critics attended the movie and prepared to condescend, but the movie could not be dismissed: It was so joyous and original that even the early reviews acknowledged it as something special. After more than three decades, it has not aged and is not dated; it stands outside its time, its genre and even rock. It is one of the great life-affirming landmarks of the movies.

In 1964, what we think of as «The ’60s” had not yet really emerged from the embers of the 1950s. Perhaps this was the movie that sounded the first note of the new decade–the opening chord on George Harrison’s new 12-string guitar. The film was so influential in its androgynous imagery that untold thousands of young men walked into the theater with short haircuts, and their hair started growing during the movie and didn’t get cut again until the 1970s.

It was clear from the outset that «A Hard Day’s Night» was in a different category from the rock musicals that had starred Elvis and his imitators. It was smart, it was irreverent, it didn’t take itself seriously, and it was shot and edited by Richard Lester in an electrifying black-and-white, semi-documentary style that seemed to follow the boys during a day in their lives. And it was charged with the personalities of the Beatles, whose one-liners dismissed the very process of stardom they were undergoing. “Are you a mod or a rocker?” Ringo is asked at a press conference. “I’m a mocker,” he says.

Musically, the Beatles represented a liberating breakthrough just when the original rock impetus from the 1950s was growing thin. The film is wall to wall with great songs, including «I Should Have Known Better,» «Can’t Buy Me Love,» «I Wanna Be Your Man,» «All My Loving,» «Happy Just to Dance With You,» «She Loves You,» and others, including the title song, inspired by a remark dropped by Starr and written overnight by Lennon and McCartney.

The Beatles were obviously not housebroken. The American rock stars who preceded them had been trained by their managers; Presley dutifully answered interview questions like a good boy. The Beatles had a clone look–matching hair and clothes–but they belied it with the individuality of their dialogue, and there was no doubt which one was John, Paul, George and Ringo. The original version of Alun Owen’s Oscar-nominated screenplay supplied them with short one-liners (in case they couldn’t act), but they were naturals, and new material was written to exploit that. They were the real thing.

The most powerful quality evoked by «A Hard Day’s Night» is liberation. The long hair was just the superficial sign of that. An underlying theme is the difficulty establishment types have in getting the Beatles to follow orders. (For «establishment,” read uptight conventional middle-class 1950s values.) Although their manager (Norman Rossington) tries to control them and their TV director (Victor Spinetti) goes berserk because of their improvisations during a live TV broadcast, they act according to the way they feel.

When Ringo grows thoughtful, he wanders away from the studio, and a recording session has to wait until he returns. When the boys are freed from their «job,” they run like children in an open field, and it is possible that scene (during «Can’t Buy Me Love”) snowballed into all the love-ins, be-ins and happenings in the park of the later ’60s. The notion of doing your own thing lurks within every scene.

When a film is strikingly original, its influence shapes so many others that you sometimes can’t see the newness in the first one. Godard’s jump cuts in «Breathless» (1960) turned up in every TV ad. Truffaut’s freeze frame at the end of «The 400 Blows» (1959) became a cliche. Richard Lester’s innovations in «A Hard Day’s Night» have become familiar; because the style, the subject and the stars are so suited to one another, the movie hasn’t become dated. It’s filled with the exhilaration of four musicians who were having fun and creating at the top of their form and knew it.

Movies were tamer in 1964. Big Hollywood productions used crews of 100 people and Mitchell cameras the size of motorcycles. Directors used the traditional grammar of master shot, alternating closeups, insert shots, re-establishing shots, dissolves and fades. Actors were placed in careful compositions. But the cat was already out of the bag; directors like John Cassavetes had started making movies that played like dramas but looked like documentaries. They used light 16mm cameras, hand-held shots, messy compositions that looked like they might have been snatched during moments of real life.

That was the tradition Lester drew on. In 1959 he’d directed «The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film,» starring Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan among others: It was hand-held, anarchic, goofy, and contains the same spirit that infects «A Hard Day’s Night.» Lester had shot documentaries and TV commercials, could work quick and dirty, and knew he had to, because his budget was $500,000 for «A Hard Day’s Night.”

In his opening sequence, which shows the Beatles mobbed at a station as they try to board a train, Lester achieves an incredible energy level: We feel the hysteria of the fans and the excitement of the Beatles, intercut with the title song (the first time movie titles had done that), implying that the songs and the adulation were sides of the same coin. Other scenes borrow the same documentary look; a lot feels improvised, although only a few scenes actually were.

Lester did not invent the techniques used in «A Hard Day’s Night,» but he brought them together into a grammar so persuasive that he influenced many other films. Today when we watch TV and see quick cutting, hand-held cameras, interviews conducted on the run with moving targets, quickly intercut snatches of dialogue, music under documentary action and all the other trademarks of the modern style, we are looking at the children of «A Hard Day’s Night.»

The film is so tightly cut, there’s hardly a down moment, but even with so many riches, it’s easy to pick the best scene: The concert footage as the Beatles sing «She Loves You.” This is one of the most sustained orgasmic sequences in the movies. As the Beatles perform, Lester shows them clearly having a lot of fun–grinning as they sing–and then intercuts them with quick shots of the audience, mostly girls, who scream without pause for the entire length of the song, cry, jump up and down, call out the names of their favorites, and create a frenzy so passionate that it still, after all these years, has the power to excite. (My favorite audience member is the tearful young blond, beside herself with ecstasy, tears running down her cheeks, crying out «George!”)

The innocence of the Beatles and «A Hard Day’s Night» was of course not to last. Ahead was the crushing pressure of being the most popular musical group of all time, and the dalliance with the mystic east, and the breakup, and the druggy fallout from the ’60s, and the death of John Lennon. The Beatles would go through a long summer, a disillusioned fall, a tragic winter. But, oh, what a lovely springtime. And it’s all in a movie.


A Hard Day’s Night: The Whole World Is Watching

If you are seeing A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for the second, fifth, or fortieth time, you’re bound to catch some perfect detail—a brazen incongruity, sneaky delight, or intangible grace note—you missed on the first, fourth, or thirty-ninth go-round. Everyone recalls the tall man in the club jumping alongside diminutive Ringo, inventing pogo dancing long before the punks embraced it. But for all these years, with my eyes glued on that Mutt and Jeff pair, I had completely missed the wondrously elongated, posh bird opposite them laughing uproariously, throwing herself into the music, the moment. She has a gangly, go-go-ing sophistication that takes the breath away (the spectator’s and her own too).

A split second before Ringo and the tall guy (Jeremy Lloyd—stage actor, Beatles acquaintance, and regular clubgoer) start jumping, on the sidelines there’s another toothy lovely in a vest, listening to John. It first looks like she has one stylish boot up on the table. But when you look more closely—and A Hard Day’s Night repays frame-by-frame examination more fully than the Zapruder film—you discover her heel is actually cupped in a companion’s hand. Furthermore, she’s wiggling it slowly, delectably, and oh-so-indolently, nibbling on whatever the in crowd nibbled in the spring of 1964. It lasts only eight or nine seconds, and amid the shimmer of “All My Loving” and the swirl of bouffant hairdos and akimbo limbs, it’s easy to miss. But once you catch it, it seems like an offhand code for a transformed social world that’s being sculpted before your eyes: it isn’t the blunt kinkiness of the image, it’s the casualness, the way the cool and wry and fetishistic are all being folded into everyday conversation, ordinary life. Roll over, Antonioni, and tell Buñuel the news . . .

Under director Richard Lester’s knowing eye, the Beatles and all the actors and extras seem less like “the cast” than a group of more or less accidental coconspirators. It’s as if the scattered cells of twenty-four-hour party people—beatniks, angry young men, frustrated young women, mods, rockers, “mockers,” art schoolers, regular schoolgirls, nouvelle vague–istes, urbane scene makers, fashion mavens—were suddenly coalescing into a movement. “I think maybe swinging London was about eight hundred people in the sixties,” Jeremy Lloyd said, looking back decades later. That scene in the Garrison Room is a picture-perfect representation of what was going down—a microcosm that was poised to go viral, international. (He started doing his pogo maneuver in that very club, as a way of keeping an eye on his girlfriend at the time—a nobody named Charlotte Rampling.) “It was like a continuation of their normal life,” he said of the Beatles’ screen representation. And A Hard Day’s Night seemed most of all like an open invitation to join in the Lennon-McCartney-occasionally-Harrison-soundtracked free-for-all. Everybody’s welcome, the more the merrier . . .

Lester’s feel for pop surrealism grew out of his background in the telegraphic, fast-track language of advertising and, especially, his work with the founders of radio’s The Goon Show, whose demented irreverence impacted the Beatles (particularly John) almost as deeply as rock and roll. Looking to translate the success of The Goon Show to television, Peter Sellers—who had seen an exceedingly odd Christmastime special called The Dick Lester Show—and fellow Goon Spike Milligan had enlisted Lester for a trio of Goon Shows–in-everything-but-name (The Idiot Weekly, Price 2d; A Show Called Fred; and Son of Fred, all 1956, all paving the way for Monty Python), where Lester’s experimental yet pragmatic nature dovetailed with their anarchic whimsies. Next came The Running Jumping & Standing Still Film, the short Lester made with Sellers (and with Sellers’s 16 mm Bolex camera, editing the footage by “laying all the cuts out on his drum kit”) in 1959—the perfect calling card, as it turned out, to show he was on the Beatles’ wavelength. John, Paul, and George had seen it repeatedly in Liverpool, where the local cinema screened it on a recurring basis—“brought back by popular demand!” as Beatles biographer Mark Lewisohn recounts. Deep in their private Liverpool underground, nurturing and nurtured by a small but fanatical fan base, they brought a frenzied energy to the stage that was channeled through a similar sense of impudence and fun.

The Beatles’ vernacular, working-class dreams of world conquest and revolt grew out of the liberties taken by the Goons and by the phantasmagorical figures on American records—not only the obvious Elvis–Little Richard–Chuck Berry–Gene Vincent eruptions but the emergent girl-group and Tamla-Motown sounds as well, right down to the fuzz-box guitar on Ann-Margret’s 1961 “I Just Don’t Understand”—filtered through the filth and excitement they had found in Hamburg’s red-light district and in the legendary confines of the Liverpool firetrap/incubator so appropriately called the Cavern. By the time A Hard Day’s Night started filming, they had already secured their U.S. beachhead with appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. (Photos from that sojourn look exactly like a dress rehearsal for A Hard Day’s Night: the screaming girls, the incredulous policemen, the buttoned-down, crew-cut stiffs of the press, Ed being a professional “good sport,” Walter Cronkite’s daughters visiting them during rehearsal.) The plan, conceived by their visionary manager, Brian Epstein, embraced by the band, and obliquely but fabulously executed by Lester, screenwriter Alun Owen, and their production team, was to catapult them into the wider world without a parachute. Bigger than Elvis or nothing . . .

At the time, rock and roll remained a teenage aberration, mostly left for dead—finished when Elvis was drafted, Buddy Holly’s plane crashed, or the twist caught on. It hung on in backwaters like Liverpool, but to the people who made up the London music establishment, Liverpool may as well have been Mars (or at least Siberia). However, the Beatles had other ideas, and Epstein happened to run the biggest record outlet in the north of England, which got him a foot in several doors. Record producer George Martin couldn’t grasp them at first: the rock “group” as a concept, a self-contained entity, wasn’t yet part of the industry’s vocabulary. But then a eureka! light bulb went on. They might be the male Shirelles . . . A notion no less strange, original, and absolutely gender-­subvertingly apt today than it was back then.

When Lester said that A Hard Day’s Night essentially wrote itself, taken directly from the short time he and Owen spent hanging out with the boys, he meant it was a matter of simply reproducing their private idiom, a coded language that sounded like a law unto itself. (Which, of course, was anything but simple.) He didn’t impose either an aesthetic or his ego on them, instead teasing out a situational approach based on their own proclivities and circumstances, using whatever was needed, whatever would do the trick. An ample helping of mock cinema verité, touches of François Truffaut and Jacques Tati, a pinch of Buster Keaton, a dash of the Marx Brothers, multicamera setups, jump cuts, a passel of unchaperoned girls who might’ve just gone over the wall from St. Trinian’s . . .

Everything was caught on the fly, no introductions, the barest minimum of sideways exposition. No “love interests” (except for one another) or other moon–June–spoon-fed plot points. Full speed ahead, no time to be fussy, but nevertheless a surprising tendency to let sequences linger in real time. Collective and individual identities—the John-Paul-George-Ringo lunch box and merchandise concession—are worked out and woven through a treadmill environment where the hamsters play satiric havoc with the business of light entertainment and teen merchandising. Holy shite: we’ve become a limited company.

Lester began shooting on March 2; completed on April 24, the film had its world premiere in London on July 6 (Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon in attendance). United Artists executives liked the film but wanted to redub the Beatles’ dialogue because they thought no one would understand the accents. The whole caper was a euphoric blur, but Lester stuck to his guns, the “Liverpudlian cadences” stayed, and, in the end, “we got away with it.” No one could possibly have been prepared for that opening shot of the Beatles in midgallop, hurtling down a cramped street straight at the camera—the ringing first chord of the title song sounding like a starter’s gun—pursued by a mob of fans. Imagine Hitchcock’s birds as a flock of music-mad autograph seekers. Who would have had the sheer bleeding nerve?

A new, wide-open cross-fertilization with modernism arrived with this day-in-the-pop-life field trip: Beatles aide-de-camp Shake (John Junkin) sitting on the train reading a familiar paperback, Son of Mad. Ringo thoughtfully analyzing his raging inferiority complex, later admonishing the belligerent technician who fools with his precious cymbals, “There you go, hiding behind a smoke screen of bourgeois clichés.” Not to forget the girl he tries to strike up a conversation with in front of a pawnshop, who is oblivious to his Starr-dom: “Get out of here, shorty.” There’s Lennon snorting his Coke bottle, demanding of a harrumphing Mr. I-Know-My-Rights Businessman, “Give us a kiss,” and helpfully extending himself to Norm the manager (Norman Rossington): “If you’re gonna have a barney, can I hold your coat?” Paul bats his fine lashes, interjecting an adroitly timed “Zap!” into Hamlet’s “too too solid flesh” spiel, while keeping tabs on his wayward grandfather (Wilfrid Brambell’s devious rictus grin and easily outraged feelings suggesting a convicted flasher disguised as a “very clean” Tati holidaymaker). And George, ever the quiet, even-keeled assassin, laying waste to the know-it-all trendsetting ­gobbledy­­gook of Kenneth Haigh’s strung-out adman. “Have I said something amiss?”

There is a sense in which this takes Beatle-itude to an apotheosis from which there’s nowhere to go but inward and nowhere to fall but apart. Help! (1965) found Lester in cruise-director mode, becoming (as Manny Farber put it in “Day of the Lesteroid”) “Master of the Erector Set effect.” Gone, mostly, was the ecstatic release Lester sprang with “Can’t Buy Me Love,” the collective prison-­­break cry of “We’re out!” That dizzying freedom curdled in the very short time it took the band to conquer the known universe and arrive at the clutter-strewn sequel. In John’s approximate words to the director after Help! (expletive reinstated): “I’m an extra in me own fookin’ movie.”

A retroactive disappointment with A Hard Day’s Night arose with the backlash to the Beatles’ unimaginable success. As Lester Bangs indelicately put it: “Fuck the Beatles . . . It’s BLATANTLY OBVIOUS that the most rock-and-roll human being in the whole movie is the fucking grandfather! That wily old slime of Paul’s! He had more energy than the four moptops put together! Plus the spirit! He was a true anarchist!” Why couldn’t they have made, oh, a British Scorpio Rising instead, or a superprescient Performance? (As Performance amounted to Donald Cammell and Nicolas Roeg’s decadent rock recasting of Joseph Losey’s The Servant, and considering playwright Joe Orton’s failed stab at writing the Beatles’ follow-up to Help!, that wasn’t an entirely far-fetched idea.) The funny thing was, in their Hamburg days, divided between low life and the avant-garde artistic circle of photographer Astrid Kirchherr, they had already lived out a Warhol movie, while Mick Jagger and Lou Reed were still clean-cut students plugging away at university. Without the Beatles and A Hard Day’s Night to open the floodgates, the paths to glory would have been a lot more circumscribed. Lester, for one, was able to parlay the movie into projects that would have been unthinkable beforehand: The Knack . . . and How to Get It (1965), How I Won the War (1967), and Petulia (1968), cinematic anomalies that reflected an attitude of commercial experimentation, cross-fertilization, and rampant eclecticism that was new to mainstream film. (The fact that Lester’s biggest fan is Steven Soderbergh speaks volumes—birds of a restless feather.)Beautifully anchored in the context of its rapidly changing times—few movies have such a serene handle on what it is to be perched on a volcano that is about to erupt—A Hard Day’s Night glided right into the history the Beatles had begun to make. Nonetheless, the novelty of their being a rock group has kept the film from taking its place alongside fellow travelers like Shoot the Piano Player; Band of Outsiders; Orson Welles’s amazing pop-Kafka riff on The Trial; or the equally giddy Dr. Strangelove (featuring the Beatles’ favorite would-be drummer, Peter Sellers). Of course, Lester’s rejection of intellectually fashionable pessimism and hand-wringing alienation didn’t endear his movie to the protest-minded either: these four were the children of Groucho Marx and Coca-Cola, and they regarded the fields of Consumer Capitalism as a subversive playground instead of a battlefield. Larking about, no respect for cultural authority a’tall.

A Hard Day’s Night’s echoes can be found in all kinds of places: directly in John Boorman’s wonderfully acerbic and melancholy knockoff Catch Us If You Can, with the all-but-forgotten Dave Clark Five; implicitly in Tony Richardson’s The Loved One and, of course, in the film that plays like Lester’s knackered version of Lolita, George Axelrod’s chaotic Lord Love a Duck. Consider if Lennon and McCartney had branched out into acting—beyond John’s spot in How I Won the War—and taken the leads in Loved One and Duck: McCartney surely could have improved on the woefully accented Robert Morse in the former, and imagine Lennon instead of an overage Roddy McDowall as the genie opposite the incandescent Tuesday Weld in the latter. “Careful. You’ll make yourself spurt.”

But to appreciate the full extent of the film’s impact, you have only to look at the loving shots of George Harrison playing his Rickenbacker twelve-string electric guitar—no one had seen or heard anything like it (it was only the second one ever manufactured). When Roger McGuinn saw it, he had a veritable religious experience: thus were born the Byrds, folk rock was launched, and a thousand chiming, eight-mile-high tunes went chasing after Harrison’s sound. Bob Dylan, the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, each responded in their own way; everyone was on notice that a whole theater of possibilities was being opened here. The game was afoot!

It wasn’t just restless youths. My favorite Andy Warhol story is from 1965: He and some of his Factory gang had gone to London for an exhibition, then on to Paris, and finally to that old beatnik-hipster sanctuary, Tangier. Coming home, they went straight from the airport to catch a revival double bill in the Village: A Hard Day’s Night and Goldfinger. As Susan Sontag wrote in her journal: “Pop art is Beatles art.”

There is a palpable sense of initiation to the movie: a mass version of a secret society. It has tendrils everywhere. The name Victor Spinetti alone evokes a whole comic version of the Mad magazine–meets–Mad Men era; he’s a supporting actor so perfectly attuned to a neurotic caricature as to elevate it to poster-­­child status. As for “Hey, hey, we’re the Monkees”—perhaps the less said the better about that Campbell’s Soup canned version of Beatlemania. Except to note, with a certain wonderment, that the infernal TV show’s creators, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, would go on to make names for themselves in film history, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, and Hearts and Minds thus being linked to A Hard Day’s Night in the great daisy chain of being. Better to contemplate the Silly Putty genius of The Rutles: All You Need Is Cash, that loosey-goosey Goons-Beatles-Python synergy come full circle. (If only Sellers could have been the drummer.) Or Christopher Munch’s lovely, cutting The Hours and Times, adding a little backstory/backbeat footnote about John and Brian Epstein. There’s even the quick, helium-voiced homage in Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There. That’s the thing about A Hard Day’s Night: it contains bloody multitudes.

What sticks in my mind when contemplating the enduring quality of the group’s—and the film’s—appeal is something Epstein said a few weeks before A Hard Day’s Night’s premiere. Here was this Jewish, gay, deeply bourgeois twenty-nine-year-old who connected with these scruffy lads on a deeply personal yet utterly universal level: “Everything about the Beatles was right for me—their kind of attitude to life, the attitude that comes out in their music and their rhythm and their lyrics, and their humor, and their own personal way of behaving—it was all just what I wanted. They represented the direct, unselfconscious, good-natured human relationships which I hadn’t found and had wanted and felt deprived of”; with the Beatles, he declared, “my own sense of inferiority evaporated.”


The Deep Art of A Hard Day’s Night

I first saw A Hard Day’s Night in a junior-high music class, and it thrilled me. When the schoolday ended, I booked it—as we said at the time—to the library, where I voraciously stuck in front of my face one write-up after another about the Beatles’ first film, which celebrates its 50th anniversary today.

They pretty much all said the same thing: the film was a solid, cheeky, blend of Marx Brothers style comedy—on account of the “snappy,” peppy,” “lively” dialogue—and early rock and roll films like Rock Around the Clock and Rock, Rock, Rock!

Rock Around the Clock; Rock, Rock, Rock!—those titles sound pretty generic, don’t they? That’s because they were generic, I quickly realized. You’d have Chuck Berry doing his lip-synching thing, as “the cats” juked and jived, with only the barest thread of a plot.

Even then, having no clue about film history and cinematic techniques, I knew that A Hard Day’s Night was getting undersold. And I soon learned it was wrong to call it a Beatles film, really, when it was more properly a Dick Lester film—a film that was auteured, if you will, rather than bashed out factory-style, like those other early rock films.

More than two decades and 250 screenings later, watching Criterion’s new, awesome-looking Blu-ray, I’m more blown away than ever at what you can call A Hard Day’s Night’s deep filmic art.

Right from the opening sequence at London’s Marylebone Station, with an endless gaggle of girls in pursuit of this rock band on the lam from their own stardom, you know this is a film unlike the genre had ever produced. To that point, you had the occasional sterling effort like 1958’s King Creole with Elvis turning in his best-ever performance. But by ’64, the French New Wave and the British kitchen-sink realist movement had happened, and both were going into the hopper for director Lester.

What is arguably the most famous chord in Western popular music starts the film just as it starts the title album. But here the chord cues a series of cuts that function like the cuts of some battle scene filmed by D.W. Griffith crossed with Godard at his least verbose. The Beatles are awkward in this sequence, as Lennon himself would say. They’re conscious of being in a film, but the prismatic cutting overrides that lack of actorly chops, and the viewer feels lost in the maelstrom, until, at last, the band boards the train that provides sanctuary. At which point you start to think that, hey, maybe this isn’t an extended rock-and-roll video gussied up as a film, but a legit stand-alone film with some rock and roll music in it.

The frantic realism of the opening exodus sheds freneticism and becomes, intriguingly, more realistic in the 15-minute travel section that follows. Orson Welles used to delight in telling interviewers of how he and cinematographer Gregg Toland would cut chunks out of the floor while working on Citizen Kane so they could shoot up at characters and ceilings, and we get that same mélange of angles here. High levels, low levels, shots partially obscured by doors, porters, passing travelers.

The Beatles clash with an old war vet who objects to their portable hi-fi as they share a compartment together. Funny sequence. They exit the cabin with a cheeky retort or two, and you’re pleased, that’s good, and then boom, there they are outside of the train, running and biking along, continuing the joke with the old man. It’s surrealism flecked with reality, which both Buñuel and Disney would have understood, and it manages to surprise every time you see it. We are grounded in the actual world you and I live in, but also in the world of the Beatles, which—as Lester and screenwriter Alun Owen intuited even at this early date—featured a kind of magic. No band, maybe no artists ever, had a greater capacity for displaying and inducing wonder. And here we have that wonder made visual.

Repairing to a baggage car, the band opts for a game of cards. The camera picks up on some swaying luggage, like this world has suddenly started rocking. Cut back to the Beatles, who do just that with “I Should Have Known Better.” Again, the surrealism is at play—cards have been replaced with instruments, Georges Méliès-style. But the music we all know is present too, being used for a cinematic vision. Consider the second bridge of the song. Until this point, Lennon’s vocal is double-tracked, but here it’s more natural, everything going through the one channel, and Lester, for the first and only time in the sequence, gets John in a straight-on close-up. There’s no artifice in that moment, just a synchronizing of what the ears are hearing and the eyes are seeing.

Touches like these abound. Watch the “And I Love Her” sequence, when an almost full-frame of soft white light obscures Paul McCartney’s face. It’s something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Pasolini film, or a work by Carl Dreyer when he was less intent on scaring people.All of the film’s shots, with their tight quarters, lead up to the orgastic payoff.

The film’s most revolutionary scene for rock-and-roll movies occurs when the Beatles, increasingly hemmed in by the pressures of their world, bust out of a television studio to frolic in a field. All of the film’s shots, the confinement of the band into tight quarters, lead up to the orgastic payoff here.

Ringo yells “we’re out!” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” somehow always sounds louder here than it does on record. Lester undercranks his camera, so that Paul McCartney appears to come flying faster than is humanly possible right into the forefront of the frame just as the song’s ripping guitar solo begins.

Yes, the music is wickedly good, and these are some of the best songs the Beatles would ever write. But if this was some mediocre band, or some invented band, A Hard Day’s Night would still be a legit, honking, gravitas-slathered cinematic masterpiece. It’s one of the rare works of art from the ‘60s that’s in the same league as, well, the Beatles.


Let’s dance!

Why Do Humans Dance?

You might think it’s an easy question to answer. It isn’t. Not for me. It took a whole book! Seven chapters!

Yet it is also true that themes of those chapters spiral around one another, forming a thick cord that, I am hoping, different people can grasp in different places, wherever it comes closest to where they are.

So then, why do humans dance?

A good first step is to clarify the terms of the question. What is “dance” anyway? Why we do it depends on what “it” is.

I define dance as an emergent phenomenon, one that is rooted in the movement of our bodily selves.

We humans are movement. We are the movement that is making us able to think and feel and act at all. Sometimes the movement that we are erupts in a spontaneous burst and assumes a new pattern.

We may be walking down the street and a passing sensation streaks through our bodily selves, producing a small hop, a shift in weight, a skip forward. Or we are walking along the ocean’s edge, suddenly propelled by the felt force of the crashing waves to spin and stretch along with them.

In such moments, dance emerges. It is tossed up within the restive currents of movement that we are, taking shape as a new pattern of sensory awareness that changes us. We are now the person who made that move. When such an impulse courses through us, it relates us to ourselves and our worlds in a new way. It aligns. It touches. It frees. It is dance.

While such emergences may be spontaneous, we can also practice opening ourselves up to receiving them. We can practice noticing and recreating movement patterns that appear to us—movements organized into a technique, a style, a form—so as to heighten our vulnerability to such animating bursts. Whatever movements we practice–in any realm–will encourage us to make further movements in the directions they define.

In this case, the movement patterns that we are practicing serve as invitations to deepen our sensation of movement. The movements we practice invite us to move with greater ease, facility, and dynamic delivery in the patterns they represent. They invite us to receive sponteous bursts of energy in line with the trajectories they open. This too, is dance.

Returning to the initial question, this definition of dance points towards a circular answer. Humans dance because dance is human. Dance is not an accidental or supplemental activity in which humans choose to engage or not. Dance is essential to our survival as human beings.

Without the barest ability to notice, recreate, and become patterns of movement, without the ability to invite impulses to move, humans would not be able to learn how to sense and respond to the sources of their wellbeing—to people, to nourishment, to ideas, to environments. Dancing is essential to the rhythm of bodily becoming by which human persons become whomever they are.

The implications are many and far reaching.

For one, dance is in everyone. There is no escape from it. You can’t say that you can’t, don’t, didn’t or won’t. The only question is how. How are you dancing? How are you going to dance? Under what influences? With what inspiration? Beholden to what impediments? In response to what goals, goads, and gods? Or maybe there is a second question—why, as in: Why have you stopped?

A second implication is that “dance,” as a term, has no content. It is not inherently anything—neither good nor bad; helpful nor harmful. There is no paradigmatic technique or form. There is no “essence” of dance, and no one way in which dance appears as dance to everyone everywhere.

At the same time, however, this way of thinking about dance affords ample resources for understanding the significance and efficacy of any movement patterns that do appear to someone somewhere as “dance.”

Any dance tradition or technique, any set of exercises or training regimes, represents a collection of movement impulses that a given person or group of people have received, recreated, and remembered.

Any dance tradition or technique represents movement patterns that those persons have found useful for connecting them to something they perceive as having value—whether tribe or tradition, pleasure or skill, community or divinity, heaven or Earth. Dance as movement is inherently relational.

Moreover, this understanding of dance as human also provides us with ways of evaluating whether and how a given technique or tradition is helping people learn to move in life-enabling ways. As we create and become these patterns of prescribed movement, what ranges of thought, feeling, and action are we drawing into reality? What sensitivities and sensibilities are we honing? What kind of relationships are we manifesting with ourselves, with others, and with the earth?

So then.

Why do humans dance? We dance because we can. Because dance is who we are. Because dance is what our bodily selves do. Because dance is how we become who we have the potential or desire or need to be.

Must we dance? In so far as we have any life at all, we are moving. At some level, in some range, however narrow, we are creating and becoming the patterns of sensation and response that our movements require. Whether or not we practice is up to us. We need not cultivate an ability to receive impulses to move that align our bodily selves with the opportunities of the moment. But we can.

Should we dance? That is a question each person needs to ask his or her self. And the first step in forming an answer is to ask: what is dance to you? What is it that you do everyday that brings your senses to life? What is it that wakes you up to the sources of your creativity and compassion? Your new ideas? Your joy?

Whatever it is, there is a dance in it. Whatever it is there are patterns of movement—of sensing and responding—that open you to the enabling sources of your own bodily becoming. Whatever it is, do it.

Once you can see the dance in yourself and what you do, you may be inspired to do more—to seek out further opportunities to see and sense and be moved by patterns of movement that other humans have discovered. Go for it!

Humans can dance anywhere, for any reason, with whatever meaning we choose. The fact that humans can is what matters. The fact that we do is what enlivens us. The fact that we can do more is what gives me hope for this species and our planet.


The dancing species: How moving together in time helps make us human

Dancing is a human universal, but why?

It is present in human cultures old and new; central to those with the longest continuous histories; evident in the earliest visual art on rock walls from France to South Africa to the Americas, and enfolded in the DNA of every infant who invents movements in joyful response to rhythm and song, long before she can walk, talk or think of herself as an ‘I’. Dancing remains a vital, generative practice around the globe into the present in urban neighbourhoods, on concert stages, as part of healing rituals and in political revolutions. Despite efforts waged by Christian European and American colonists across six continents over 500 years to eradicate indigenous dance traditions and to marginalise dancing within their own societies, dancing continues wherever humans reside. Any answer to the question of why humans dance must explain its ubiquity and tenacity. In so doing, any answer will challenge Western notions of human being that privilege mind over body as the seat of agency and identity.

Current explanations for why humans dance tend to follow one of two approaches. The first, seen in psychological and some philosophical circles, begins with a human as an individual person who chooses to dance (or not) for entertainment, exercise, artistic expression or some other personal reason. Such approaches assume that dance is one activity among others offering benefits to an individual that may be desirable, but not necessary, for human well being. Alternatively, a raft of sociological and anthropological explanations focus on community, asserting that dancing is one of the first means by which the earliest humans solidified strong social bonds irrespective of blood lines. In these accounts, dancing is eventually replaced by more rational and effective means of social bonding that the dancing itself makes possible, such as language, morality and religion. While the first type of reasoning struggles to explain why so many humans choose to dance, the second struggles to explain why humans continue to dance. What is missing from these accounts?

What if humans are the primates whose capacity to dance (shared by some birds and mammals) was the signature strategy enabling the evolution of a distinctively large and interconnected brain, empathic heart and ecological adaptability? And what if dancing plays this role for humans not just in prehistoric times, but continuing into the present? What if humans are creatures who evolved to dance as the enabling condition of their own bodily becoming?

Recent evidence for such a thesis is gathering across scientific and scholarly disciplines. Time and again, researchers are discovering the vital role played by bodily movement not only in the evolution of the human species, but in the present-day social and psychological development of healthy individuals. Moreover, it is not just bodily movement itself that registers as vital in these cases, but a threefold capacity: to notice and recreate movement patterns; to remember and share movement patterns; and to mobilise these movement patterns as a means for sensing and responding to whatever appears. This threefold capacity is what every dance technique or tradition exercises and educates.

According to the New York University neuroscientist Rodolfo Llinás, writing in the bookI of the Vortex (2001), bodily movement builds brains. A brain takes shape as it records patterns of neuromuscular coordination, and then remembers the outcomes in terms of pain or pleasure, emotional tags that help it assess whether to mobilise that movement again, and if so, how.

In so far as bodily movements build the brain, every movement a human makes matters. Each repetition of a movement deepens and strengthens the pattern of mind-body coordination that making that movement requires; and the repetition also defines avenues along which future attention and energy flow. Every movement made and remembered shapes how an organism grows – what it senses and how it responds. From this perspective, every aspect of a human bodily self – from chromosomal couplet to sense organ to limb shape – is a capacity for moving that develops through a process of its own movement making. An arm, for example, develops into an arm by virtue of the movements it makes, beginning in utero. These movements pull its bones and muscles into shape, as contracting cells build the physiological forms needed to meet the movements’ demands.

In this sense, a human being is what I call a rhythm of bodily becoming. A human is always creating patterns of bodily movement, where every new movement unfolds along an open-ended trajectory made possible by movements already made. Dancing can be seen as a means of participating in this rhythm of bodily becoming.

Further support for this thesis comes from anthropologists and developmental psychologists who have documented the importance of bodily movement to infant survival. As the American anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy affirms in her bookMothers and Others (2009), human infants are born premature, relative to their primate cousins: a human foetus intent on emerging from the womb with the neuromuscular maturity of an infant chimpanzee would need to stay there for 21 months. Instead, hopelessly dependent human infants must have a capacity to secure the loyalty of caregivers at a time when their sole means for doing so is by noticing, recreating and remembering those patterns of movement that succeed in connecting them to sources of nurture. In a view shared by Hrdy and others, this capacity for the responsive recreation of bodily movement forms the roots of human intersubjectivity. In other words, infants build their brains outside the womb in relation to mobile others by exercising a capacity to dance.

Recent research on mirror neurons further supports the idea that humans have a unique capacity to notice, recreate and remember patterns of movement. More abundant in the human brain than any other mammalian brain, mirror neurons fire when a person notices a movement, recreating the pattern of neuromuscular coordination needed to make that movement. In this way, humans can learn to recreate the movement of others – not only other humans, but also trees and giraffes, predators and prey, fire, rivers and the Sun. As the neuroscientist V S Ramachandran writes in his bookThe Tell-Tale Brain (2011), mirror neurons ‘appear to be the evolutionary key to our attainment of full-fledged culture’ by allowing humans ‘to adopt each other’s point of view and empathise with one another’.

Nevertheless, the term ‘mirror’ is misleading; it hides the agency of bodily movement. A brain does not provide a passive reflection. As eyes register movement, what a person sees is informed by the sensory awareness that his previous movements have helped him develop. He responds along the trajectories of attention that these previous movements have created. From this perspective, dance is a human capacity, not just one possible activity among others. It is a capacity that must be exercised for a person to build a brain and body capable of creating relationships with the sources of sustenance available in a given cultural or environmental context. To dance is human.

In this light, every dance technique or tradition appears as a stream of knowledge – an ever-evolving collection of movement patterns discovered and remembered for how well they hone the human capacity for movement-making. Most of all, dancing provides humans with the opportunity to learn how their movements matter. They can become aware of how the movements they make are training them – or not – to cultivate the sensory awareness required to empathise across species and with the Earth itself. In this regard, dance remains a vital art. From the perspective of bodily becoming, humans cannot not dance.


Are humans the only species that enjoy dancing?

All cultures enjoy moving to the beat, but we’re beginning to discover we’re not the only ones with rhythm, other animals like to get into the groove.

A male crouches, sharply drawing his breath to tighten his chest. The cape descending from his neck presses closely against his back. He turns his head upwards, fixing his eyes upon the female.

Suddenly, he puffs his chest, extending it up and out, before returning to his original position. Then, he flips his cape forward, up and over his body, slightly bowing his head. If he’s confident that she’s interested in his advances, he opens his cape, revealing two reflective blue-green «eye spots» just above his eyes. While holding this posture, he circles slowly around the female. If the female is interested, she takes a slightly submissive stance and turns in place. Their faces nearly touch as she rotates, constantly maintaining eye contact.

The setting for this elaborate courtship ceremony is not some medieval court or Dancing with the Stars. It isn’t even a dance club or a crowded bar. This particular ritual takes place in the montane forests of Papua New Guinea. And the participants aren’t humans, though they could be. They’re superb birds of paradise, Lophorina superba, the cape in this case formed by a splendid plumage of black feathers.

People often suggest dancing as an example of activities that are uniquely human. Many species like the bird of paradise have various sorts of mating rituals, which could be described as «dances» by analogy. But dancing means something more specific: the «rhythmic entrainment to music». In other words, dancing isn’t only moving the body in some stereotyped or over-learned fashion. Dancing requires that an individual moves his or her arms, legs, and body in sync with a musical beat. All human cultures ever encountered can do this, and until recently we thought this talent or ability was unique to our species. Until, that is, a celebrity parrot named Snowball knocked us off our place of perceived prominence.

Snowball became famous on the internet when videos were uploaded of the twelve-year-old cockatoo appearing to dance to a Backstreet Boys song. He seems to bob his head up and down in sync with the beat of the song. Sometimes he lifts his feet off his perch, occasionally alternating back and forth between his right and left legs. His crest also seems to raise and lower in rhythm with the music. Could it really be that humans aren’t unique in their abilities to dance?

A sceptic might wonder if perhaps Snowball was simply imitating an off-camera human: an impressive ability in its own right, but not good enough to dance with the stars. But a neuroscientist named Aniruddh D. Patel, of The Neurosciences Institute, in San Diego, California, conducted an experiment to find out if Snowball was truly moving to the music, whether his dancing skills were purely the result of anthropomorphism on the part of human YouTube viewers, or whether it was simply imitation.

Patel took one of the tunes that Snowball was familiar with, a Backstreet Boys song called Everybody, and modified it so that the tempo could be sped up or slowed down from 86 to 130 beats per minute, without altering the song’s pitch. The researchers took video recordings of the bird’s movements while the songs were playing. After analysing their videos, they found that Snowball’s dance steps were synchronized to the music. The parrot had moves, after all.

Signs of desire

Was Snowball an oddball, or is dancing widespread elsewhere in the animal kingdom? A second group of researchers ploughed through YouTube in search of data, and wound up with 1,019 uploaded videos that claimed to show non-human animals dancing. After a careful analysis, the researchers were left with evidence of dancing in fifteen species. Fourteen of those were, like Snowball, different kinds of parrot. The fifteenth example was an Asian elephant.

One thing that parrots, humans, and elephants have in common is that they are all vocal learners, meaning they can change the composition of the sounds they make, by changing pitch or the order of a song, for example. The list of species that YouTubers claim can dance is much longer, including ferrets, dogs, horses, pigeons, cats, fish, lizards, snakes, owls, camels, chimpanzees, turtles, ducks, hamsters, penguins, and bears, but they don’t pass scientific muster. As domestic species like dogs and horses don’t appear have any dancing aptitude, it suggests that this talent doesn’t develop entirely from exposure to music. Its origin lies deeper, within the biology of the species.

Human culture has transformed dancing into a form of art, a means of expression. But beneath that scaffolding lies something far more ancient.

Darwin himself noted the apparent similarities between dance rituals in birds and humans in The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, writing, «the males sometimes pay their court by dancing, or by fantastic antics performed either on the ground or in the air.» He continues, «With birds of paradise a dozen or more full-plumaged males congregate in a tree to hold a dancing-party, as it is called by the natives: and here they fly about, raise their wings, elevate their exquisite plumes, and make them vibrate, and the whole tree seems, as Mr. [Alfred] Wallace remarks, to be filled with waving plumes…One observer, who kept several pairs alive, did not doubt that the display of the male was intended to please the female.»

If Darwin was right, and dancing is used as a means for selecting mates – then dancing ability might correlate with the genetic quality of the dancer. In other words, dancing ability might serve as a signal that communicates one’s own desirability as a mate. In 2005, William Brown and colleagues from Rutgers University and the University of Washington published a paper in Nature demonstrating that this might indeed be the case.

The researchers used motion capture technology to record people dancing to the same song. They also calculated, for each dancer, the degree to which their bodies were symmetrical. Previous research has indicated that this feature, called fluctuating asymmetry, is related to a person’s attractiveness, whether based on odour, voice, or facial appearance. (Note, however, that the use of this measurement is controversial.)

The researchers showed animations, derived from the motion capture process, to 155 people and asked them to rate the dance abilities of the cartoon dancers. They found that males who were more symmetrical were thought of as better dancers than males who were more asymmetrical. (Video samples of symmetrical and asymmetrical dancers can be found here.) Symmetry explained nearly half of the total variation in dance ability for the men.

Symmetrical females were also rated as better dancers than their asymmetrical counterparts, but this only explained less than one quarter of the variation in their dance skills. What this means is that dance ability was a more useful indicator of one’s quality as a prospective mate for men than for women, a pattern that would be expected in species where females are thought to be the more selective sex. At least three other research groups have found evidence to support the notion that differences in dance ability among human males reflects some underlying biological or genetic quality, and that females are attentive to those differences.

Both dancing and courtship are, of course, made more complicated and more elaborate thanks to human culture. Strip away that culture, though, and the distinctions among species melt away. When it comes to the birds and the bees, humans might be more like the birds than they realise.


10 Reasons to Dance

As dance aficionados can attest to the fact that attending a dance performance can be a truly invigorating experience. From the dancers’ flexibility and rhythm, to the lavish costumes and mesmerizing music, dance presentations have a vast appeal with plenty to offer to those of varied tastes. But despite the visual “wow” factor, we asked ourselves why should dance be limited to a spectator sport for non-professionals who enjoy the art form? Surely there are many benefits to individual’s participating in dance, as opposed to just sitting back and watching. To this end, we’ve dusted off our pointe shoes in order to point our readers in the right direction on what experiencing dance first hand can offer.

Health & Fitness:

Something you will never experience by merely watching a dance performance, as opposed to taking a dance class or just dancing for fun, is a good old-fashioned cardiovascular workout to get the blood flowing and the calories burning. Not only will dancing help to reduce your blood pressure, lower harmful cholesterol, and increase your flexibility and muscle tone, it will also help you lose weight, making that tutu fit too, too well! Just to give you a few examples and an approximate idea of how many calories you can expect to shed in an hour, per dance type: Salsa burns 405 to 480, Ballet burns 380 to 450, Swing 300 to 550, Ballroom dancing between 150 and 320, Tap zaps 200 to a whopping 700 an hour, depending on pace.

Self-Esteem Booster:

Professional dancing obviously requires confidence, especially when performing in front of an audience. While your goals might not include gracing the Broadway stage, taking dancing classes or just hitting a dance routine regularly or on the dance floor of your favorite night spot, is enough exercise to release beta-endorphins into your blood stream. These, in turn, increase feelings of well-being. And the awesome side benefits? The regular aerobic exercise helps to contour your body and the increased stamina and strength does wonders for your self-assurance when you walk into a room.

Exposure to New Cultures:

One of the many wonderful aspects of dance is that it transcends all cultures, bridging societal differences with the commonalities of artistic expression. Classes in Tango, Flamenco, Belly Dancing and others open the door to cultural exploration, not only in the dances of other countries, but also in their foods and customs. You will surely be inspired to take in some delish Latin food after a heavy session of Salsa dancing, for instance. And the great thing is you also get the opportunity to meet others from varied backgrounds, while all coming together in an enjoyable and social activity.

Creative Outlet:

Divergent thinking is a key factor in creativity, and dancing promotes this wonderfully. Sometimes it’s difficult to find regular opportunities to exercise the imagination, especially if you spend most of your day at a non-creative job. Through dance, you can flex your creative muscles and feed your inventive side. Dance allows you to come up with your own routines, and lets your body channel your ideas without worrying about strict limitations or deadlines. Improvising and experimenting with new moves on the dance floor is definitely a creative highpoint that’s very achievable.

Transcend gender roles:

When considering dance classes, your gender shouldn’t be a determining factor. Traditionally, there are many examples of defined gender roles in dance, particularly in ballet, where the male dancer is always lifting the woman, even though both male and female ballet dancers have to be extremely strong. But nowadays, there are many types of dancing where these gender roles are abandoned, such as Contact Improv, where the male and female mutually rely on each other physically. Contemporary Dance is another example of gender neutrality in dance, as it can feature two males or two females dancing a duet. Hip Hop also dispenses with gender roles in dance, since both partners are engaging in the exact same movements.

Reduce Stress:

Another great aspect of taking up dancing, is that it can definitely help reduce stress in your life, no matter what type of music you choose to dance to. For example, dancing to slow music provides the equal benefits to stress reduction as does dancing to a fast, upbeat tempo. As long as you are feeling the music, moving your limbs, and swaying your body, dancing will release pent-up tension and allow you to relax. Modern society can be highly stressful, with pressures from jobs, relationships, children, and finances. Dancing provides an outlet to cope with these challenges by releasing calming endorphins into your system, contributing to feelings of well-being and euphoria.


Not only can Dance get you in tune with your innermost thoughts, it also provides an emotional outlet to express these feelings. This is so important because it strengthens your ability to channel these expressive qualities and apply them to your daily life, even when you aren’t dancing.

Reconnecting as a Couple:

Many times, the stress of daily life has a tendency of driving a wedge between couples, whether they are newly together or have been together for ages. Taking dance classes as a couple is a great alternative to traditional couples’ therapy. In a dance class, you’re discovering new steps together, often gazing into each other’s eyes while exploring sexy new ways to connect with each other. Who can deny the heat and passion in dancing the Tango, or being joined in a sensual Bolero? It’s almost like you’ve just started dating again, and what can be more exciting than that?

Fun Factor:

Perhaps the simplest, yet most powerful reason to enroll in dance classes is that it’s a heck of a lot of fun! Health benefits and stress relief factors aside, it’s hard not to have a good time when you’re dancing. Whether it’s just an hour or two a week, it’s an hour of being free from the daily grind, listening to great music, socializing, and swaying, hopping, twisting around to the beat. And if you’re having a great time doing it, that’s all that matters.

Challenging the Status Quo:

Many people might be apprehensive about trying new things. Let’s face it. Doing something you’ve never done before can be scary sometimes. Jumping into a dance class not only trains you to face your fears of the unknown, but it provides a relatively risk-free environment to experiment with and expand your comfort zone, without worrying about the need for a bungy cord!

No matter which of these reasons appeals the most to you, there’s no denying that dancing provides a host of physical and emotional benefits which all contribute to make you a healthier and more well-rounded individual, while having fun and enhancing your social interactions. How many hobbies can boast that claim without missing a beat?


Why do people dance? Amazing reasons for learning to dance

Some of you started taking dancing lessons when you were children, and this is great for you, because your muscles and mind immediately got into shape. Nowadays you have an amazing relationship with dance, because every song seems to be your favourite one. The ones who started dancing when they were children know that dancing changes their life forever. But if your parents did not enrol you to dancing classes, then it is not too late to start now, even if you are an adult. You have to ask yourself if you want to learn to dance, because you will need determination in order to learn all those steps. You do not have to become a specialist in dancing, if you want to take part to a fun and social activity, but you should give it a try.   

You will have an awesome posture

If you decide to try ballet, then you will improve your posture. This dance is the one that shows you how sitting up really feels and looks. After you attend a few classes you will have a great feeling when you will see in the mirror your new posture, and you will definitely want to keep it forever. Also, you will notice that people will start complementing your posture, and this will make you feel great.  

You will feel healthier and stronger

Dancing is a way of exercising in a pleasant manner so it will definitely strengthen your muscles and bones. After a few classes you will notice that you are stronger, and this will give you more energy to continue dancing. You may even want to try new dancing styles. If you exercise on a regularly basis you can prevent health issues as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart diseases.  

You will meet new friends

The majority of people have difficulties when it comes to making friends. But dancing is a fun way to meet new people, and considering that you share the same hobbies, there are great chances to become lifelong friends. If you want to make new friends then you should attend a Latino dance class, because these classes are a great opportunity to socialize. If you attend the classes for a long period, then you will definitely make friends, and some of them will remain friends for life.  If you have watched ballet movies you may have seen that dancers are horrible to each other, but this is not the case when it comes to classes. There will probably be a group of people who will want to draw attention, but it does not mean that they will not be supportive, if you are a beginner.  

Dancing trains your brain

If you want to maintain your brain young then you should get involved in as many activities as possible. The majority of people think that dancing and fitness are helpful only for their body, but the fact is that they are great for their general wellbeing. If you strictly come dancing judge Craig you will learn that during dancing classes you will have to learn multiple steps and movements, and this means that you will have to use both sides of your brain. Your brain is the one that learns the steps and movements, and it will help you improve your coordination. Your legs, hands and head will move in a synchronised way.  

You will dance basically everywhere

Do you remember that time when you heard a great song when driving and you did not dance because the other drivers were looking at you? Well, after you attend dancing classes you will not care if there is someone looking at you when you dance in your car, because you will be confident. You spend a lot of time in traffic, so instead of being angry because you are caught in a traffic jam, you can relax by playing your favourite song and dancing a little.  

You will learn to love yourself

The majority of people are not satisfied with the way they look, and they do not love themselves. But if you attend dancing classes you will load yourself with endorphins and you will see yourself in a new way. There are studies that show that people’s self-esteem is higher when they get involved in activities as exercising and dancing. And because dancing is a way of exercising, you will notice that your body is slowly changing and this will make you love your appearance. Your body will connect with your mind and you will find the feeling extremely rewarding.  If you attend ballet classes you will notice that your legs start changing. The arches of your legs will bet bigger and more flexible. Yes, your ankles will probably get tired easier than they used to do it, but you will feel great at the end of every class, so the effort is totally worth.   


Mental Benefits of Dance

Dance has existed for thousands of years. Moving your body creatively is a popular way to express yourself and exercise. Up to 10 million Americans have danced at a studio or have taken a class. Even more just dance for fun at home or with friends.

Beyond just movements and music, dancing offers many benefits for mental health and brain function.


Dancing offers plenty of benefits for your emotions, intelligence, and relationships. Learning and practicing dance can:

Improve self-esteem. The amount that you respect and value yourself is your self-esteem. Showing yourself that you can learn and master new moves and skills through dance can improve your self-esteem and confidence. 

Help you meet new people. Social interaction between groups of people is important to your mental well-being. Talking and spending time with others improves your mood. It also makes you feel like you belong and eases loneliness.

Dance classes, where you learn and move alongside others, are a great way to gain these mental health benefits.

Improve your mood and attitude. Dancing can improve your mood while you learn, move, and perform. In fact, many people take dance classes because they put them in a good mood. 

Ease depression and anxiety. Dance is an effective type of exercise that raises your heart rate and works your muscles. Exercise can help with symptoms of depression and anxiety by releasing certain chemicals in your brain. It also provides a way to escape repetitive negative thoughts and worries. These are thoughts that run through your mind over and over. 

Protect your memory. As we age, it gets harder to remember names, places, and other details. Learning new things, like different moves and styles of dance, sharpens your brain’s ability to remember these kinds of details.  This can help prevent dementia. 

The mental advantages of dancing depend on the type of dance you learn. Styles like ballroom dancing require a large degree of improvisation. These improve your decision-making skills more than completely memorized movements and routines. On the other hand, interpretive modern dance styles offer more benefits for creativity. 


Hans Zimmer: the sound of movies

Hans Zimmer

The film scores of composer Hans Zimmer are as varied as the films they provide music for. One score may cause the viewer to laugh harder, another may make the heart pound faster, and yet another might make a moviegoer cry harder. “I’m this loose cannon—all over the place,” Zimmer told Edwin Black in Film Score Monthly online. “I can do action movies and romantic comedies…. The bottom line is I’m trying to serve the film just like the director is trying to serve the film.” After nearly 20 years as a composer, Zimmer has provided musical scores for more than 80 films.

Hans Florian Zimmer was born on September 12, 1957, in Frankfurt, Germany. His interest in music began at a very early age. He began playing piano at the age of three, but his interest in lessons waned after just two weeks. When he was six years old, he decided that he wanted to become a composer. “My dad died when I was six,” Zimmer told CNN Worldbeat. “That’s when I decided I was going to become really serious about music, because it was my refuge. It was my way of calming the demons in me or at the same time sometimes letting them roar, letting them rip, letting the monster out and seeing that it wasn’t so scary being able to look it in the eye.”

When Zimmer was 14 years old, he moved to England. Throughout his childhood, he was expelled from several different schools because he preferred to study music instead of his schoolwork. When he finally finished school, he began his music career by writing jingles for commercials and playing in rock bands. In 1979, Zimmer, along with Trevor Horn and Geoff Downes, put together a band called the Buggies. The group recorded the album The Age of Plastic, which included the hit song “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The video for the single became the first ever to be shown on MTV.

Despite the group’s success, Zimmer did not enjoy the recording process with the Buggies, and he was not happy having to write only one style of music. “I used to be in a band, but that got to be boring,” Zimmer later recalled to David Kohner Zuckerman in Brtnwd magazine. “Now I have bigger bands for shorter periods of time.”

After leaving the Buggies, Zimmer went to work for composer Stanley Myers, who began to teach him more about scoring films. “Stanley took me in,” Zimmer told Cinemusic online. “From the first day that I was his assistant, he just let me write things…. I thought it was great that there was that system in place whereby someone who really knew a lot would give you room and support, and bring you up and give you a chance.” Zimmer and Myers set up the Lillie Yard Studio in London. They collaborated on several film scores, including Moonlighting, The Lightship, The Castaway, and My Beautiful Launderette.

Born Hans Florian Zimmer on September 12, 1957, in Frankfurt, Germany; married Suzanne; two children.

Began playing piano at the age of three; decided to become a composer at the age of six; moved to England, 1971; started his music career writing jingles for commercials; formed the Buggies rock band, released single “Video Killed the Radio Star” and album The Age of Plastic, 1979; composed first film score for Moonlighting, 1982; credited with more than 80 film scores, 1982–2001.

Awards: Academy Award, Best Original Score, 1995; Golden Globe, Best Original Score, 1995; Chicago Film Critics Award, Best Score, 1995; two Grammy Awards for Lion King, 1995; American Music Award, Best Album of the Year, 1995; Grammy Award for Crimson Tide, 1996; BMI’s Lifetime Achievement Award, 1996.

In 1986, Zimmer worked by himself on the score for Vardo. The following year, he teamed with David Byrne and Ryuichi Sakamoto to produce the soundtrack for The Last Emperor. By the mid 1980s, his career as a film composer was well on its way, but it was in 1988 that it truly took off. Zimmer had composed the score for a small budget film called A World Apart, which was about South Africa. The wife of producer Barry Levinson played the soundtrack for her husband about the time that he was getting ready to hire someone to score Rain Man. Levinson was so impressed with Zimmer’s work that he hired him to score his film as well. Zimmer won an Academy Award nomination for his work on Rain Man. He moved to Los Angeles following the success of the film.

In 1989 Zimmer won a Grammy Award nomination for his work on Driving Miss Daisy. He also received industry and audience recognition for the score for Thelma & Louise in 1991. In 1994, Zimmer produced his most successful score up to that point when he worked on The Lion King. The soundtrack became the most successful in the history of Walt Disney Records with 12 million copies sold worldwide. The following year, Zimmer won a Golden Globe for Best Original Score, a Chicago Film Critics Award for Best Score, an American Music Award for Best Album of the Year, two Grammy Awards, an Academy Award, and a Tony Award nomination for Best Original Score for The Lion King on Broadway.

Zimmer saw his success with The Lion King as a fork in the road of his career. “Lion King made me reassess my situation in this town,” Zimmer told Black. “You can go two ways. I admit that standing on the stage and getting an Oscar [Academy Award] is the most seductive moment one can have in one’s life. It is truly overwhelming. Then you go, ‘Wow, if I just carry on writing nice music like this, I can have this moment again…’ That’s why I did the exact opposite, scoring for truly offensive projects like The Fan. Just to shake myself out of the desire for that Oscar experience. Otherwise, I would just stagnate.”

Although he chose to take the path less glittered, Zimmer did continue to receive recognition for his work. In 1996, he won a Grammy Award for his score for Crimson Tide, and he received another Academy Award nomination for The Preacher’s Wife. That same year, the performing rights organization BMI presented him with its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award before Zimmer was even 40 years old. He received another Academy Award nomination in 1998 for the score to As Good As It Gets.

In the late 1990s, Zimmer accepted a position as head of the music division with the DreamWorks SKG studio. While there, he supervised the music for all of their film and television projects and wrote the score for the animated feature The Prince of Egypt, which earned him both a Golden Globe nomination and an Academy Award nomination. He also wrote the score for The Road to El Dorado, another DreamWorks animated feature. In 2000, Zimmer worked with DreamWorks and director Ridley Scott on the hit film Gladiator. He also wrote the score for Mission: Impossible 2, released that same year. On October 10, 2000, Zimmer performed a rare live concert with the Flemish Radio Orchestra in GhentBelgium, to celebrate the opening of the 27th Flanders International Film Festival. The following year, his scores appeared on two more hit movies, Hannibal and Pearl Harbor.

In addition to his work as a composer, Zimmer formed a business with his partner Jay Rifkin called Media Ventures in 1989. The company serves as a conglomerate of composers who can produce and record nearly anything related to media music. The business also gives Zimmer a way to help talented new composers in the same way that Myers helped him when he was just starting out. In the end, though, Zimmer’s heart is firmly planted in film scoring. “If something happened where I couldn’t write music anymore, it would kill me,” he told CNN Worldbeat. “It’s not just a job, it’s not just a hobby; it’s why I get up in the morning.”

Over the years, Zimmer has earned a reputation for maximizing the use of electronics and technological inventions in his music. As such, he has been able to produce sounds and textures that had not previously been heard in film music. Despite all of the recognition he has received for his work, Zimmer remains one of his own harshest critics. Of all the scores he has written, he has been proud of very few. Those that make his list of personal favorites include A World Apart, Driving Miss Daisy, Drop Zone, True Romance, The Fan, Crimson Tide, Prince of Egypt, and Two Deaths, a small film he did for the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in the United Kingdom.



Some of his soundtracks:

Rain Man (1989)

Thelma & Louise (1991)

A League of Their Own (1992)

True Romance (1993)

The Lion King (1994 / 2019)

The Preacher’s Wife (1996)

As Good As it Gets (1998)

Prince of Egypt (1998)

Thin Red Line (1999)

Gladiator (2000)

Mission: Impossible 2 (2000)

Hannibal (2001)

Pearl Harbor (2001)

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003)

Shark Tale (2004)

Madagascar (2005)

Batman Begins (2005)

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006)

The Da Vinci Code (2006)

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)

The Dark Knight (2008)

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Inception (2010)

The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

12 Years A Slave (2013)

Man of Steel (2013)

Interstellar (2014)

Planet Earth II (2016)

Hidden Figures (2016)

Batman VS Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Blade Runner 2049 (2017)

Dunkirk (2017)

Dune (2021)

«The World of Hans Zimmer» Concert:

Christmas on the screen (3)

This is a selection of Christmas movies, but there are more of them. Do you have a favourite one?

Home Alone – John Hughes (1990)

A Mom for Christmas – George T. Miller (1990)

All I Want for Christmas – Robert Lieberman (1991)

Yes Virginia, There Is a Santa Claus – Charles Jarrott (1991)

Father Christmas – Dave Unwin (1991)

Winnie the Pooh and Christmas Too – Jamie Mitchell (1991)

Frosty Returns – Evert Brown, Bill Melendez(1992)

The Muppet Christmas Carol – Brian Henson (1992)

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York – Chris Columbus (1992)

The Nightmare Before Christmas – Henry Selick (1993)

Miracle on 34th Street – Les Mayfield (1994)

Mixed Nuts – Nora Ephron (1994)

The Santa Clause – John Pasquin (1994)

Trapped in Paradise – George Gallo (1994)

A Holiday to Remember – Jud Taylor(1995)

The Christmas Box – Marcus Cole (1995)

Ebbie – George Kaczender (1995)

The Angel of Pennsylvania Avenue – Robert Ellis Miller (1996)

The Christmas Tree – Sally Field (1996)

How the Toys Saved Christmas – Enzo D’Alò (1996)

Jingle All the Way -Brian Levant (1996)

Mrs. Santa Claus – Terry Hughes (1996)

Christmas Every Day – Larry Peerce (1996)

The Christmas List – Charles Jarrott (1997)

Annabelle’s Wish – Roy Wilson (1997)

On the Second Day of Christmas – James Frawley (1997)

Beauty and the Beast: The Enchanted Christmas – Andy Knight(1997)

Sesame Street: Elmo Saves Christmas – Emily Squires(1997)

Ms. Scrooge – John Korty (1997)

I’ll Be Home for Christmas – Arlene Sanford (1998)

Ebenezer – Ken Jubenvill (1998)

The Christmas Wish – Ian Barry (1998)

A Christmas Carol – David Jones (1999)

Olive, the Other Reindeer – Steve Moore (1999)

The Greatest Store in the World – Jane Prowse (1999)

Must Be Santa – Brad Turner (1999)

Der Herbst 1989: Als nicht nur Blätter gefallen sind…

Der Herbst 1989

4. September: In Leipzig versammeln sich nach dem traditionellen Friedensgebet mehrere hundert Menschen vor der Nikolaikirche. Sie fordern Reisefreiheit und die Abschaffung der Staatssicherheit (Stasi). Daraus entstehen die Montagsdemonstrationen.

10. September: In Grünheide bei Berlin gründet sich die DDR- Reformbewegung „Neues Forum“. Anfangs als „staatsfeindliche Plattform“ abgelehnt, wird sie am 8. November als politische Vereinigung zugelassen.

 11. September: Mehrere tausend DDR-Bürger, die in Ungarn ausharren, dürfen von 00.00 Uhr an nach Österreich ausreisen. Bereits im Mai hatte Ungarn mit dem Abriss des „Eisernen Vorhangs“ an seiner Westgrenze begonnen.

30. September: Nach wochenlangem Tauziehen erklärt sich die DDR- Regierung bereit, die mehr als 6300 Flüchtlinge in den bundesdeutschen Botschaften in Prag und Warschau in die Bundesrepublik „auszuweisen“. Sie fahren in den Westen.

7. Oktober 1989: Bei seinem Besuch zum 40. Jahrestag der DDR mahnt der sowjetische Staatschef Michail Gorbatschow grundlegende Reformen an. Zehntausende DDR-Bürger protestieren gegen das SED-Regime. Zahlreiche Demonstranten werden festgenommen.

9. Oktober: Mit dem Ruf „Wir sind das Volk“ demonstrieren in Leipzig 70 000 Bürger. 8000 bewaffnete Polizisten, Angehörige der Kampfgruppen und Soldaten der Nationalen Volksarmee (NVA) stehen bereit. Der Einsatzbefehl wird aber nicht gegeben.

14. Oktober: Am Morgen trifft der 50 000. DDR-Flüchtling seit Öffnung der ungarischen Grenze in der Bundesrepublik ein.

18. Oktober: Egon Krenz löst Erich Honecker als SED- Generalsekretär ab. Krenz verkündet die Einleitung einer „Wende“, mit der die SED wieder in die politische und ideologische Offensive gehen will.

23. Oktober: In Leipzig beteiligen sich an der bis dahin größten Protestkundgebung in der DDR knapp 300 000 Menschen.

26. Oktober: Erstmals findet ein Treffen von SED und Opposition statt. Der Ostberliner SED-Bezirkschef Günther Schabowski empfängt die Initiatoren des Neuen Forums, Bärbel Bohley und Jens Reich.

29. Oktober: Bei einer Großveranstaltung in Ost-Berlin stellen sich Spitzenfunktionäre zum ersten Mal der Diskussion mit der Bevölkerung.

30. Oktober: In Leipzig gehen rund 250 000 Demonstranten mit Transparenten wie „Ein Land ohne Mauern“ auf die Straße. Die „Aktuelle Kamera“ des DDR-Fernsehens berichtet erstmals live vom Ort des Geschehens.

3. November: Alle 4500 DDR-Bürger in der bundesdeutschen Botschaft in Prag dürfen ohne Formalitäten in die Bundesrepublik ausreisen.

4. November: Bei einer Kundgebung auf dem Alexanderplatz in Ost- Berlin demonstrieren nahezu eine Million Menschen für Versammlungs- und Meinungsfreiheit.

6. November: Die DDR erlebt die größte Demonstrationswelle. Bei Protesten in Leipzig ist die Stimmung der rund 200 000 Teilnehmer aggressiv. Sie fordern: „Die Mauer muss weg“.

7. November: Die DDR-Regierung tritt zurück, tags darauf auch das SED-Politbüro. Krenz wird als Generalsekretär bestätigt. Im neu formierten Politbüro, dem höchsten Machtzirkel, herrscht Konfusion.

9. November 1989: Überraschend werden die Grenzübergänge geöffnet. Noch in der Nacht strömen Tausende zu einem Besuch in den Westen.

Quelle: Tagesschau – Zehn Tage im November 1989

Reihe von Videos:

Mauerfall Mein 9. November 1989 - Unionhilfswerker erinnern sich | Wegbegleiter

Am 4. November 1989 versammeln sich fast eine Million Menschen zu einer genehmigten Kundgebung auf dem Alexanderplatz in Ost-Berlin. Sie fordern Reformen in der DDR. Vier Tage später tritt das Politbüro geschlossen zurück. Bei der Neuwahl wird das Gremium von 21 auf 11 Mitglieder verringert. Die wichtigsten Repräsentanten der Honecker-Ära sind gestürzt. Am 9. November 1989, um 18:57 Uhr, stellt sich Günter Schabowski, Mitglied des Politbüros, der Presse und verliest stockend «von einem Zettel, den mir jemand zugesteckt hat», wie er später bekennt, einen Beschluss des Ministerrats: «Privatreisen nach dem Ausland können ohne Voraussetzungen (…) beantragt werden (…). Ständige Ausreisen können über alle Grenzübergangsstellen der DDR zur BRD beziehungsweise zu Berlin (West) erfolgen.» Die Weitergabe der Nachricht ist von der DDR-Regierung nicht autorisiert, sie sollte erst am Morgen des 10. November veröffentlicht werden.Die überraschende Meldung verbreitet sich blitzartig im ganzen Land. Noch in der Nacht eilen Tausende an die Mauer in Berlin. Ohne Befehl öffnen Grenzsoldaten die Übergänge und in einem Freudentaumel ohnegleichen fallen sich fremde Menschen aus Ost und West in die Arme. Am Wochenende setzt sich eine Menschenflut in Bewegung. In endlosen «Trabi»- und «Wartburg»-Schlangen fahren sie in die Bundesrepublik und nach West-Berlin zu ihren Verwandten oder zu einem Bummel in die «Einkaufsparadiese». Jeder bekommt 100 DM «Begrüßungsgeld» der Bundesrepublik.

Weiter lesen:

Öffnung und Fall der Mauer Special: Mauerfall und Wiedervereinigung | SZ Photo blog

Am frühen Abend des 9. November 1989 kurz vor 19:00 Uhr gab ZK-Sekretär Günter Schabowski am Ende einer Pressekonferenz eher beiläufig das Inkrafttreten einer neuen Reiseregelung für DDR-Bürger bekannt.

Nach langem Drängen der Bevölkerung hatte die SED-Führung am 6. November den Entwurf für ein Reisegesetz veröffentlicht, vom dem sie aber zunächst nur einen Teil – nämlich die Regelung für die Ausreise ohne Rückkehrrecht – in Kraft setzen wollte. Damit sollte vor allem der anhaltende Ausreisestrom über die CSSR gestoppt werden. Unter dem Druck der Demonstrationen in Leipzig, Berlin und weiteren Städten, die gegen den Gesetzentwurf protestierten, war die Regelung am Vormittag des 9. Novembers noch einmal überarbeitet worden. Sie enthielt nun auch eine Besuchsregelung: Ein Visum für Privatreisen mit Rückkehrecht sollte künftig ohne besondere Voraussetzungen und Wartezeiten ausgestellt werden.

Während der Pressekonferenz äußerte sich Schabowski dann vorzeitig zu der neuen Regelung. Aufgrund von Abstimmungsfehlern erklärte er den überraschten Journalisten, dass Privatreisen ins Ausland nun «ohne Vorliegen von Voraussetzungen – Reiseanlässen und Verwandtschaftsverhältnissen – beantragt werden“ könnten. Die Genehmigungen würden kurzfristig erteilt; die Regelung gelte nach seiner Kenntnis „sofort, unverzüglich“.

Nachdem die Abendnachrichten der ARD die Schabowski-Äußerung um 20:00 Uhr als wichtigste Meldung unter der Schlagzeile „DDR öffnet die Grenze“ verbreitet hatten, versammelten sich vor den Übergangsstellen nach West-Berlin mehr und mehr Ost-Berliner, die von dem neuen Recht sofort Gebrauch machen wollten. Für die Grenzposten, die keinerlei Instruktionen hatten, war die Lage zunächst völlig unklar.

Um den Druck der Massen zu mindern, ließen die Posten am Grenzübergang Bornholmer Straße um 21:20 Uhr die ersten DDR-Bürger nach West-Berlin ausreisen. Allerdings ließ der Leiter der Passkontrolleinheiten ihre Pässe ungültig stempeln, was die Ausbürgerung der ahnungslosen Inhaber bedeutete. Gegen 23:30 Uhr war der Ansturm der Menschen [Film 13,31 MB] jedoch so groß, dass der Leiter der Passkontrolleinheiten, der noch immer ohne offizielle Dienstanweisung war, den Schlagbaum endgültig öffnete. Ca. 20.000 Menschen konnten in der folgenden Stunde ohne Kontrolle die Bösebrücke passieren. Auch die anderen innerstädtischen Grenzübergänge wurden im Verlauf des späten Abends geöffnet. Infolge der friedlichen Revolution in der DDR und der politischen Veränderungen in den Staaten Ost-Europas war in dieser Nacht die Berliner Mauer gefallen.

Auch an den folgenden Tagen wurde an den Übergängen nach West-Berlin auf alle Formalitäten verzichtet [Film 1,36 MB]. Die ganze Stadt befand sich im Freudentaumel. Auf dem Kurfürstendamm herrschte mehrere Tage lang Volksfeststimmung, viele Restaurants verteilten kostenlos Getränke an die Besucher. Nach mehr als 28 Jahren hatte die Mauer endlich ihren Schrecken verloren.

In der Folgezeit wurden immer mehr Übergänge zwischen den beiden Stadthälften geschaffen, am 22. Dezember 1989 auch am Brandenburger Tor. Der Abriss der innerstädtischen Mauer erfolgte in der Hauptsache von Juni bis November 1990. Souvenirjäger aus der ganzen Welt, die sogenannten Mauerspechte, hatten sich da bereits ein Stück vom Symbol des Kalten Krieges und seiner Überwindung gesichert. Heute können Interessierte den früheren Verlauf der Mauer über 20 Kilometer im Zentrum der Stadt nachvollziehen. Er ist im Boden durch eine doppelte Großsteinpflasterreihe gekennzeichnet. Die Breite des Grenzstreifens und der Aufbau der Grenzanlagen wird am besten in der Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, Bernauer Straße 111, veranschaulicht.


Reihe von Videos:

Der Bau der Berliner Mauer

Rund 2,7 Mio. Menschen hatten zwischen 1949 und 1961 die DDR und Ost-Berlin verlassen: ein Flüchtlingsstrom, der etwa zur Hälfte aus jungen Leuten unter 25 Jahren bestand und die SED-Führung vor immer größere Schwierigkeiten stellte. Täglich passierten rund eine halbe Million Menschen in beide Richtungen die Sektorengrenzen in Berlin und konnten so die Lebensbedingungen vergleichen. Allein 1960 gingen etwa 200.000 Menschen dauerhaft in den Westen. Die DDR stand kurz vor dem gesellschaftlichen und wirtschaftlichen Zusammenbruch.

Noch am 15. Juni 1961 erklärte der DDR-Staatsratsvorsitzende Walter Ulbricht, niemand habe die Absicht eine Mauer zu errichten [Film 0,81 MB]. Am 12. August 1961 gab der Ministerrat der DDR bekannt: «Zur Unterbindung der feindlichen Tätigkeit der revanchistischen und militaristischen Kräfte Westdeutschlands und West-Berlins wird eine solche Kontrolle an der Grenze der Deutschen Demokratischen Republik einschließlich der Grenze zu den Westsektoren von Groß-Berlin eingeführt, wie sie an den Grenzen jedes souveränen Staates üblich ist.» Dass sich diese Maßnahme in erster Linie gegen die eigene Bevölkerung richtete, der in Zukunft der Grenzübertritt untersagt war, erwähnte der Ministerrat nicht.

In den frühen Morgenstunden des 13. August 1961 [Film 5,80 MB] wurden an der Grenze des sowjetischen Sektors zu West-Berlin provisorische Absperrungen errichtet und an den Verbindungsstraßen das Pflaster aufgerissen. Einheiten der Volkspolizei, der Transportpolizei sowie der sogenannten Betriebskampfgruppen unterbanden jeglichen Verkehr an der Sektorengrenze. Wohl nicht ohne Hintersinn hatte die SED-Führung einen Ferien-Sonntag im Hochsommer für ihre Aktion ausgewählt.

In den nächsten Tagen und Wochen wurden die Stacheldrahtverhaue an der Grenze zu West-Berlin von Ost-Berliner Bauarbeitern unter scharfer Bewachung durch DDR-Grenzposten mit einer Mauer aus Betonplatten und Hohlblocksteinen ersetzt. Wohnhäusern, wie z.B. in der Bernauer Straße, in der die Gehwege zum Bezirk Wedding (West-Berlin), die südliche Häuserzeile aber zum Bezirk Mitte (Ost-Berlin) gehörten, wurden in die Grenzbefestigung einbezogen: Kurzerhand ließ die DDR-Regierung Hauseingänge und Erdgeschoss-Fenster zumauern. Die Bewohner konnten ihre Wohnungen nur noch von der Hofseite betreten, die in Ost-Berlin lag. Bereits im Jahr 1961 kam es zu zahlreichen Zwangsräumungen – nicht nur in der Bernauer Straße, sondern auch in anderen Grenzbereichen.

Durch den Mauerbau wurden von einem Tag auf den anderen Straßen, Plätze und Wohnquartiere geteilt und der Nahverkehr unterbrochen. Am Abend des 13. August sagte der Regierende Bürgermeister Willy Brandt vor dem Abgeordnetenhaus: «(…) Der Senat von Berlin erhebt vor aller Welt Anklage gegen die widerrechtlichen und unmenschlichen Maßnahmen der Spalter Deutschlands, der Bedrücker Ost-Berlins und der Bedroher West-Berlins (…)».

Am 25. Oktober 1961 standen sich amerikanische und sowjetische Panzer am «Ausländerübergang» Friedrichstraße (CheckpointCharlie) gegenüber: DDR-Grenzposten hatten zuvor versucht, Repräsentanten der Westalliierten bei Einfahrt in den sowjetischen Sektor zu kontrollieren. Dieses Vorgehen verstieß in den Augen der Amerikaner gegen das alliierte Recht auf ungehinderte Bewegungsfreiheit in der ganzen Stadt. 16 Stunden standen sich so, nur wenige Meter voneinander entfernt, die beiden Atommächte direkt gegenüber. Für die Zeitgenossen ein Moment allerhöchster Kriegsgefahr. Einen Tag später erfolgt auf beiden Seiten der Rückzug. Durch eine diplomatische Initiative von US-Präsident Kennedy hatte der sowjetische Staats- und Parteichef Chruschtschow für diesmal den Vier-Mächte Status von ganz Berlin bestätigt.

In der Folgezeit wurden die Sperranlagen weiter aus- und umgebaut und das Kontrollsystem an der Grenze perfektioniert. Die innerstädtische Mauer, die Ost- von West-Berlin trennte, hatte eine Länge von 43,1 Kilometern. Der Teil der Sperranlagen, der die übrige DDR an der Grenze zu West-Berlin abriegelte, war 111,9 Kilometer lang. Weit über 100.000 Bürger der DDR versuchten zwischen 1961 und 1988 über die innerdeutsche Grenze oder über die Berliner Mauer zu fliehen. Weit mehr als 600 Menschen wurden von Grenzsoldaten der DDR erschossen oder starben bei Fluchtversuchen; allein an der Berliner Mauer gab es zwischen 1961 und 1989 mindestens 136 Tote.



Reihe von Videos:

Das neue Deutschland

So schnell und erfolgreich die «äußere Einheit» nach 1990 hergestellt wurde, so schleppend verläuft der Prozess der «inneren Einheit»: das Zusammenwachsen der Deutschen. Insgesamt hat sich die politische und mentale Spaltung zwischen den beiden Teilgesellschaften im Laufe der vergangenen zwanzig Jahre eher verfestigt als verflüchtigt. Die neuen Institutionen sind vielen Ostdeutschen fremd geblieben. Die Ernüchterung über die Realität führte nicht nur bei Ewiggestrigen zu einer Renaissance sozialistischen Gedankenguts, wonach die kapitalistische Bundesrepublik von sozialer Kälte beherrscht werde, auch ostdeutsche Normalbürger sahen sich als vom Westen bzw. vom Kapitalismus unterdrückt und ausgebeutet. Hiervon profitierte vor allem die erst in PDS und jetzt in «Die Linke» umbenannte SED, die bei Wahlen ihren relativen Stimmenanteil in Ostdeutschland verdoppeln konnte und sich nicht zuletzt durch die Popularität von Oskar Lafontaine auch im Westen ausbreitete.

Mit der praktizierten Demokratie zufrieden äußerte sich im Jahre 2009 nur gut jeder dritte Ostdeutsche; eine gute Meinung über das Wirtschaftssystem hatte nur gut jeder vierte. Doch auch unter Westdeutschen bröckelt die Zustimmung. Während zu Beginn der Vereinigung etwa 80 bzw. 60 Prozent mit Demokratie und Wirtschaftssystem einverstanden waren, verringerten sich die Anteile auf 76 bzw. 43 Prozent. Diesen Ergebnissen entspricht die Quote derjenigen, die davon ausgehen, dass die Demokratie prinzipiell die Probleme in Deutschland lösen kann. Diese Annahme teilen knapp zwei Drittel in den alten und etwa jeder Dritte in den neuen Ländern. Es besteht also weiterhin eine beträchtliche Differenz zwischen Ost und West in der Beurteilung der politischen Ordnung und des Wirtschaftssystems.[14] Einige Jahre zuvor lagen – unter dem Eindruck des konjunkturellen Einbruchs – die Zustimmungsraten sowohl im Osten als auch im Westen sogar noch deutlich niedriger. So glaubten 2007 nur jeder knapp jeder Zweite im Westen und jeder Vierte im Osten, dass die Demokratie fähig sei, Probleme zu lösen. Eine ähnliche Tendenz ist bei den Antworten auf die Frage, ob die Gesellschaftsordnung verteidigenswert ist, zu erkennen. Die Anteile derjenigen, die dies bejahten, stiegen zwischen 2005 und 2009 im Westen von 55 auf 68 Prozent und im Osten von 32 auf 37 Prozent. Dahinter verbirgt sich eine nicht unbeträchtliche Zahl von Personen in beiden Landesteilen, die Deutschland offenbar als «Wohlstandsdemokratie» betrachtet.

Trotz aller Kritik im Detail und einem Unbehagen an der Einheit generell ist sich jedoch eine sehr breite Mehrheit in den östlichen und eine Mehrheit in den westlichen Bundesländern darin einig, die Wiedervereinigung eher mit Freude als mit Sorge zu betrachten. Zurück in die reale Vergangenheit will im Osten nur eine kleine Minderheit, etwa jeder Zehnte. Die anderen, die zur nostalgischen Verklärung der DDR neigen, sehnen sich nach einer im Nachhinein konstruierten und idealisierten Gesellschaft zurück, die ihnen das verlorene Vertraute zumindest in den Träumen wiedergibt.[15] Anders sieht es im Westen aus: Hier beurteilt eine absolute Mehrheit die Zeit vor 1989 besser als die Zeit nach der Wiedervereinigung. Die Dimension von «Westalgie» übertrifft – von der Öffentlichkeit kaum beachtet – insofern die der «Ostalgie».

Eine breite Mehrheit der Ostdeutschen möchte die heutigen Lebensverhältnisse nicht missen und keineswegs mehr mit denen in der DDR tauschen, aber sie fühlen sich oft von ihren Landsleuten missverstanden. Sie beklagen insbesondere eine fehlende Anerkennung ihrer Lebensleistung, die jedoch weder bezogen auf West- noch auf Ostdeutsche pauschal erfolgen kann. Es geht um die individuelle Lebensleistung, der Anerkennung gebührt, keineswegs um die Gleichsetzung von System und Lebenswelt. Gerade an dieser Differenzierung mangelte es in den vergangenen zwanzig Jahren. Westdeutsche rechneten sich die Überlegenheit ihres Systems zu und werteten gleichzeitig Ostdeutsche gemeinsam mit ihrem System ab. Erst wenn dieses Missverständnis ausgeräumt ist, kann das Zusammenwachsen ohne individuelle oder sogar kollektive Kränkungen gelingen. Dabei darf jedoch die notwendige Delegitimierung des SED-Regimes, der sozialistischen Diktatur, nicht zugunsten individueller Lebensleistungen aufgegeben werden. Ansonsten geht die zweite Säule des wiedervereinigten Deutschlands verloren: das Bekenntnis zu einer freiheitlich-demokratischen, mithin zivilen Gesellschaft.

Weiter lesen:

Reihe von Videos:

Wiedervereinigung – Fluch oder Segen?

1989 ist ein Schicksalsjahr in der Geschichte Deutschlands. Ein Land, das nach dem Zweiten Weltkriegentzweit wurde, wird wieder vereint. Familien werden zusammen geführt, alte Kontakte wieder neu aufgenommen. Die “Wiedervereinigung” war ein Glücksmoment in der bisher eher dunklen Geschichte der DDR.
Doch gleichzeitig bedeutete die “Wiedervereinigung” auch die Zerstörung eines Staatssystems. Natürlich endete auf diese Weise auch die Bespitzelung durch die Staatssicherheit (Stasi). DDR–Bürger, die sich mit dem westlichen System nicht auskannten, wurden betrogen und mussten den egoistischen Kapitalismus am eigenen Leibe erfahren. Menschen waren auf einmal arbeitslos. Selbstverständlich wurden mit der Wiedervereinigung nicht alle Träume erfüllt, es gab wirtschaftliche Probleme und sicherlich war für viele DDR–Bürger der Untergang ihrer geliebten Heimat ein schwerer Verlust. Doch kann man die Wiedervereinigung verteufeln, nur weil sie auch Probleme mit sich gebracht hat?
Schließlich hat es in der DDR auch zuvor Probleme gegeben. Nicht nur die Überwachung durch die Stasi und der übergroße Druck waren für viele Menschen schwer zu ertragen. Auch die Einschränkung der Meinungs- und Reisefreiheit hinderte die Bevölkerung, ihre Lebensträume zu verwirklichen. Viele DDR–Bürger wollte raus in die Welt. Dies erklärt auch, weshalb sich die DDR–Bevölkerung nach der Wende so sehr zerstreut hat. Marco Graba ist in der DDR aufgewachsen und erzählt: „Meine Freunde sind Tänzer in Paris, Erdbeerpflücker in Griechenland, Versicherungsvertreter in Aachen und Architekten in Norwegen geworden!“ Nur Dank der Wiedervereinigung hatten diese jungen Menschen überhaupt die Möglichkeit, so zu leben, wie sie es sich wünschen. Außerdem hat die Mauer Familien gegen ihren Willen zertrennt.
Auch Helen Warnat konnte aufgrund der innerdeutschen Grenze ihre Verwandtschaft im Westen nicht sehen. „Nach dem Mauerfall sind wir sofort nach Hamburg zu meinem Onkel gefahren“, erinnert sich die heutige Lehrerin begeistert. Nur durch die Wiedervereinigung sind all diese Erlebnisse möglich geworden.
Zwar hat es wirtschaftliche Probleme beim Wiederaufbau gegeben, doch diese sind mittlerweile weitestgehend bewältigt. Dass es heute noch Menschen gibt, die die Wiedervereinigung als negativ verstehen, ist unbegreiflich. Es kann in keinem Fall negativ sein, wenn sich ein Volk entscheidet, in einer Demokratie zu leben und eine Diktatur abzuschaffen. Seit der Wiedervereinigung geht es zum größten Teil auch der ehemaligen DDR – Bevölkerung besser, da die Unterdrückung ein Ende genommen hat.
Das zeigt doch, dass die Wiedervereinigung trotz kleiner, anfänglicher Probleme den Menschen die Rettung vor einer korrupten Diktatur gebracht hat!

Andererseits wurden mit der Wiedervereinigung nicht nur viele Träume erfüllt, sondern auch viele zerstört. Nach der Wende stiegen die Arbeitslosenzahlen in der ehemaligen DDR um ein Vielfaches gegenüber den alten Bundesländern. Dafür gab es mehrere Gründe. Zum einen hatte dies mit dem großen Sanierungsstau in den Betrieben der ehemaligen DDR zu tun. Käufer der Betriebe wurden dadurch abgeschreckt, dass selbst in den modernsten Betrieben der DDR die Technik noch lange nicht auf dem neuesten Stand war. Außerdem war in DDR Zeiten eine Überbeschäftigung vorhanden. Die Zahl der beschäftigten Arbeitskräfte in den neuen Bundesländern sank wegen Privatisierungen, Ausgründungen und betriebsbedingten Kündigungen von 4,1 Millionen Mitte 1990 auf 1,24 Millionen am 1. April 1992. Das größte Problem war aber die Umrechnung der DDR-Mark in DM. Dabei passierte eine Aufwertung der Währung um 400%. Hätte man den korrekten Währungskurs benutzt, wäre der Wohlstand der DDR-Bürger gesunken und dies wäre für die politische Lage kontraproduktiv gewesen. Die DDR Unternehmen wurden durch d i e s e Aufwertung unprofitabel und es wurden viele Arbeitsplätze überflüssig. Außerdem fanden viele Unternehmen keine Käufer und die Unternehmen wurden mit einer gewissen Zufälligkeit verteilt. Es gab kaum Käufer aus der DDR. Zudem unterschätzte die Bundesregierung die wirtschaftliche Bindung an den Ostblock. Abschließend kann man sagen, dass die Treuhand keine effizient arbeitende Privatisierungsagentur war. Man muss aber auch berücksichtigen, dass im Zeitraum 1980-1987 weltweit nicht einmal 1000 Privatisierungsmaßnahmen von Staatseigentum durchgeführt wurde, die Treuhand musste mehrere 1000 Unternehmen in sehr kurzer Zeit privatisieren. Es sind viele Fälle von Fördermittelmissbrauch und Wirtschaftskriminalität bekannt, vor allem aus der Anfangszeit der Treuhand. Der ehemaligen Volkswirtschaft der DDR entstanden 3 bis 10 Milliarden DM Schaden. Außerdem wurde sich in mehreren Fällen fälschlicherweise am Westen orientiert. Produkte aus dem Osten waren nichts mehr wert. Bücher wurden nicht mehr gekauft, weil sie aus ostdeutschen Verlagen stammten. Es war ein viel zu großes Streben nach dem Westen vorhanden. Helen Warnat erzählte zum Beispiel, dass sich jede Woche die Schulbänke lichteten. Sehr viele Familien zogen in den Westen. Das ist heute immer noch so. Die
Binnenmigration von Ostdeutschland nach Westdeutschland ist sehr groß. Man kann an der Statistik erkennen, dass vor allem in den Jahren nach der Wende sehr viele Menschen nach Westdeutschland zogen. Die Zahl der Leute, die nach Ostdeutschland zogen, ist seit 1992 nahezu konstant, während die Fortzüge um 2001 einen kleinen Aufschwung erlitten. Dadurch, dass die Zahl der Fortzüge größer ist als die Zahl der Zuzüge, schrumpft die Bevölkerungszahl der neuen Bundesländer stetig. Unternehmen finden keine Arbeitskräfte mehr und die Dörfer vereinsamen.
Außer in den Ballungsräumen der großen Städte (Berlin, Potsdam, Dresden, Erfurt) wird für den Großteil der neuen Bundesländer bis 2020 eine starke Abnahme der Bevölkerung prognostiziert. Heutzutage wollen viele ostdeutsche Bürger die DDR zurück, sei es aus Nostalgie oder sei es, weil alles heute schöngeredet wird. Laut Marco Graba hat man nie eine Wiedervereinigung mit der BRD erreichen wollen, man wollte eine bessere DDR, einen zweiten deutschen, demokratischen Staat. Heute weiß man, dass dieses Ziel idealistisch war und nie geklappt hätte. Bei der Eingliederung in die BRD wurde alles aus der DDR schlecht geredet. Die Verfassung der DDR wurde an das Grundgesetz der BRD angeglichen. Man hätte eine komplett neue Verfassung machen müssen, da laut Grundgesetz (Artikel 146) ein komplett neuer Staat hätte entstehen müssen. Das Grundgesetz sollte eigentlich nur vorübergehend gelten, bis Deutschland wieder ein Land wird und der Staat eine Verfassung erhält.

Weiter lesen:

Wolfgang Becker – Good Bye Lenin (2003)

David Bowie – Heroes (1977)


Gropiuslerchen – Berlin Berlin (Die Mauer ist weg) 1989


Roger Waters – The Wall in Berlin (1990)


Rainer Maria Rilke – Herbst (11.9.1902)

Herbstgedicht von Rainer Maria Rilke – Die Blätter fallen

Die Blätter fallen, fallen wie von weit,

als welkten in den Himmeln ferne Gärten;

sie fallen mit verneinender Gebärde.

Und in den Nächten fällt die schwere Erde

aus allen Sternen in die Einsamkeit.

Wir alle fallen. Diese Hand da fällt.

Und sieh dir andre an: es ist in allen.

Und doch ist Einer, welcher dieses Fallen

unendlich sanft in seinen Händen hält.



Autumn Leaves


Autumn Leaves (Originally «Les Feuilles Mortes» by Joseph Kosma & Jacques Prévert, 1945)

The falling leaves
Drift by the window
The autumn leaves
All red and gold
I see your lips
The summer kisses
The sunburned hands
I used to hold.

Since you went away
The days grow long…
And soon I’ll hear
Old winter songs
But I miss you most of all
My darling, when autumn leaves start to fall…

C’est une chanson
Qui nous ressemble
Toi qui m’aimais
Et je t’aimais
Nous vivions tous les deux ensemble
Toi qui m’aimais
Moi qui t’aimais

Mais la vie sépare
Ceux qui s’aiment
Tout doucement
Sans faire de bruit
Et la mer efface sur le sable
Les pas des amants désunis.

Since you went away
The days grow long…
And soon I’ll hear
Old winter songs
But I miss you most of all
My darling, when autumn leaves start to fall…

Yves Montand – Les Portes de la Nuit (1946)

Edith Piaf (1950)

Yves Montand – Les Feuilles Mortes (Parigi è sempre Parigi, Movie – 1951)

Nat King Cole (1956)

Robert Aldrich – Autumn Leaves (Movie, 1956)

Frank Sinatra (1956)

Miles Davis (1964)

Jerry Lee Lewis (1971)

Chet Baker and Paul Desmond (1977)

Eva Cassidy (1996)

Andrea Bocelli (2006)

Iggy Pop – Les Feuilles Mortes (2009)

Natalie Cole (2009) 

Korean Pops Orchestra (2010)

Eric Clapton (2010)

Richard Galliano Tangaria Quartet (2010)

Victor Mendoza (2011)

Jermaine Jackson & David Serero (2013)

Beegie Adair Trio (2014)

JAzz Musickorea (2015 ?)

Ahmad Jamal (2017)

A Passage to India, from E. M. Forster to David Lean

E.M. Foster

Edward Morgan Forster was the only child of Edward Morgan Llewellyn Forster who was an architect by profession and Alice Clara Lily. He was born in January 1879 in London. Both his parents died in his childhood leaving him with a legacy of 8000 Pounds. This money helped him in his livelihood and enabled him to follow his ambition of becoming a writer. His schooling was done at Tonbridge School in Kent where the theater got named after him. He attended Cambridge University where his intellect was well groomed and he was exposed to the Mediterranean culture which was much freer in comparison to the more unbending English way of life. After graduating he started his career as a writer; his novels being about the varying social circumstances of that time. In his first novel ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread’, which was published in 1905, he showed his concern that people needed to stay in close contact with their roots. The same pattern of theme was followed in ‘The Longest Journey’ (1907) and ‘Howards End’ (1910) which is a motivating story about two sisters Margaret and Helen who live in a house called Howards End. Margaret marries Henry Wilcox, a businessman and brings him back to Howards End. Howards End was the first successful novel by Forster. He also wrote a comic novel named ‘A Room with a View’ in 1908. This was the most optimistic of all his novels and was also made into a film in 1985.

In 1911 Forster also published several short stories with a rustic and unpredictable writing tone. These include ‘The Celestial Omnibus’ and ‘The Eternal Moment’. During 1912 and 1913 he traveled to India with his close friend Syed Ross Masood. His novel ‘Maurice’ was written in 1913; its subject matter revolved around a homosexual theme as he himself was a non declared homosexual. However this book was published after his death nearly sixty years after he wrote it. Many of his books had a similar theme but this one did raise suspicions as his sexuality was not open to the public. Forster visited India again in the early 1920s where he was the private secretary to Tukojirao III, the Maharajah of Dewas. In his novel ‘The Hill of Devi’ he tells a non-fictional version of his trip. His book ‘A Passage to India’ was published in 1924 receiving great appreciation. Forster was also awarded the ‘James Tait Black Memorial Prize’ following this successful novel.

Apart from homosexuality, another notable factor in Forster’s writing is symbolism as a technique and mysticism. In his book ‘Howards End’ there is a certain tree and in ‘A Passage to India’ the characters have this ability to connect to unknown people.

He also wrote for many magazines like ‘The Athenaeum’. He was against filming books. In his opinion a film or stage performance did not do justice to a literary piece of work. Despite that many of his works were adapted to films which were highly praised. In 1946 Forster was voted as an honorary ‘Fellow’ of King’s College. He was presented knighthood in 1949; an offer he declined. He was made a ‘Companion of Honor’ in 1953 and in 1969 a member of the ‘Order of Merit’. Forster continued to write till his death on 7th June 1970 due to a stroke.


E M Forster

English academic, critic and novelist

Forster wrote about his Humanism in a famous essay entitled What I Believe. He was a Vice-President of the Ethical Union in the 1950s, and a member of the Advisory Council of Humanists UK from its foundation in 1963.

His work and viewpoint were summed up in a series on British Authors (Cambridge University Press) as:

“the voice of the humanist – one seriously committed to human values while refusing to take himself too seriously. Its tone is inquiring, not dogmatic. It reflects a mind aware of the complexities confronting those who wish to live spiritually satisfying, morally responsible lives in a world that increasingly militates against individual’s needs. Sensitively and often profoundly, Forster’s fiction explores the problems such people encounter.”

E M Forster is one of the greatest of British twentieth-century novelists, his well known novels including A Passage to India, Howard’s End and A Room with a View. His open-minded and humanist view of life is seen in his novels in their focus on human relationships and the need for tolerance, sympathy and love between individual human beings from different parts of society and different cultures. He shared many ideas with, and was friendly with, members of the Bloomsbury Group. Several of his novels have been made into successful films which you may have seen. He wrote and spoke in favour of tolerance in many areas of life, and he vigorously opposed censorship. He was President of the National Council for Civil Liberties (now known as Liberty).   Forster called himself a humanist, and was President of the Cambridge Humanists from 1959 to his death. He was a Vice-President of the Ethical Union in the 1950s, and a member of the Advisory Council of Humanists UK from its foundation in 1963.

In What I Believe he wrote:

“I do not believe in Belief. But this is an Age of Faith, and there are so many militant creeds that, in self defence, one has to formulate a creed of one’s own. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy are no longer enough in a world where ignorance rules, and Science, which ought to have ruled, plays the pimp. Tolerance, good temper and sympathy – they are what matter really, and if the human race is not to collapse they must come to the front before long.”

After an unhappy conventional middle-class upbringing and public school education, Forster found the intellectual freedom of Cambridge, where he spent much of the rest of his life, liberating; he began to question religious belief while a student there. After reading Lowes Dickinson’s The Meaning of Good(which replaced God with Good, an influential idea at the turn of the century) he walked down King’s Parade declaring, ”You shall never take away from me my meaning of Good.” This underpinned his humanist view that it is possible to be good without a belief in a god.

His travels in Italy were another liberating experience and are reflected in two of early novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View. He wrote: “Italy is a beautiful place where they say ‘Yes’ and the place where things happen.” This openness contrasted with the narrow-minded attitudes of the British middle-class. Another early novel was The Longest Journey. This was more personal and drew on his own experiences at school and university. The main character has a club-foot – a symbol for people who are different from the norm but have the right, nevertheless, to be treated equally.

Forster’s two masterpieces are A Passage to India and Howard’s End. The latter is prefaced with the phrase “Only connect”. It is about the need for two parts of society – the intellectual and cultural, and the commercial, to meet and understand each other. He writes not only about the need for society to be interlinked as a whole, but of the need for individuals to “connect the prose and the passion”, to link their rational and emotional sides. A Passage to India arose from his friendship with individual Indians and from his visits to India.   During one, he became private secretary to the Maharajah of Dewas – but he wanted to know Indian people and life rather than the tea parties and bridge games of the British people living in India. In the main character, Dr Aziz, Forster brilliantly creates a character from a different civilisation from his own.   At that time, India was ruled as a part of the British Empire. Forster felt deeply that this situation prevented the Indians and British from being true friends. The novel ends with one of the main characters, the Englishman Fielding, saying to Aziz, “Why can’t we be friends now? … It’s what I want. It’s what you want.” It is said that this novel played an important part in changing attitudes in Britain, and thus helped the movement towards Indian independence.

Forster was gay. He fell in love with Muhammad, a bus conductor, while working for the Red Cross in Cairo during the First World War. Later, after Muhammad’s death from tuberculosis (TB), he fell in love with a policeman with whom he had a close relationship for the remainder of his life. He wrote a novel,Maurice, depicting the problems of gay men at a time when homosexuality was illegal. He decided it should not be published until after his death, and he did not reveal his homosexuality publicly during his lifetime.



Passage to India Review

E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India was written at a time when the end of the British colonial presence in India was becoming a very real possibility. The novel now stands in the canon of English literature as one of the truly great discussions of that colonial presence. But, the novel also demonstrates how friendships attempt (though often failing) to span the gap between the English colonizer and the Indian colonized.

Written as a precise mixture between a realistic and recognizable setting and a mystical tone, A Passage to India shows its author as both an excellent stylist as well as a perceptive and acute judge of human character.


The main incident of the novel is the accusation by an English woman that an Indian doctor followed her into a cave and attempted to rape her. Doctor Aziz (the accused man) is a respected member of the Muslim community in India. Like many people of his social class, his relationship with the British administration is somewhat ambivalent. He sees most of the British as enormously rude, so he is pleased and flattered when an English woman, Mrs. Moore, attempts to befriend him.
Fielding also becomes a friend, and he is the only English person who attempts to help him after the accusation is made. Despite Fielding’s help, Aziz is constantly worried that Fielding will somehow betray him). The two part ways and then meet many years later. Forster suggests that the two can never really be friends until the English withdraw from India.

Wrongs of Colonization

A Passage to India is a searing portrayal of the English mismanagement of India, as well as an accusatory missal against many of the racist attitudes the English colonial administration held. The novel explores the many rights and wrongs of Empire and the way in which the native Indian population was oppressed by the English administration.
With the exception of Fielding, none of the English believe in Aziz’s innocence. The head of the police believes that the Indian character is inherently flawed by an ingrained criminality. There appears to be little doubt that Aziz will be found guilty because the word of an English woman is believed over the word of an Indian.

Beyond his concern for British colonization, Forster is even more concerned with the right and wrong of human interactions. A Passage to India is about friendship. The friendship between Aziz and his English friend, Mrs. Moore, begins in almost mystical circumstances. They meet at a Mosque as the light is fading, and they discover a common bond.
Such friendships cannot last in the heat of the Indian sun nor under the auspices of the British Empire. Forster ushers us into the minds of the characters with his stream-of-consciousness style. We begin to understand the missed meanings, the failure to connect. Ultimately, we begin to see how these characters are kept apart.
A Passage to India is a marvelously written, marvelously sad novel. The novel emotively and naturally recreates the Raj in India and offers insight into how the Empire was run. Ultimately, though, it’s a tale of powerlessness and alienation. Even friendship and the attempt to connect fails.


A Passage to India Book Review

A Passage to India (1924) is a novel by E. M. Forster set against the setting of the British Raj and the Indian Independence Movement in the 1920s. It was considered as one of the 100 great works of English literature by the Modern Library and won the 1924 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. Time magazine included the novel in its “TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005”

The story centers around four characters: Dr. Aziz, his British friend Cyril Fielding, Mrs. Moore, and Adela Quested. During a tour to the Marabar Caves (modeled on the Barabar Caves of Bihar), Adela blames Aziz of attempting to assault her. Aziz’s trial, and its run-up and consequences, draw out all the racial tensions and prejudices between indigenous Indians and the British colonists who rule India. In A Passage to India, Forster employs his first-hand knowledge of India.

Foster started writing A Passage to India in 1913 just after his first visit to India. The novel was not revised and completed, however, well until after his second stay in India in 1921 when he served as Secretary to the Maharaja of the Dewas State Senior. Published in 1924, A Passage to India examines the racial misunderstandings and cultural hypocrisy that characterized the complex interactions between Indians and the English toward the end of the British occupation of India.

This book defiantly would be a brilliant choice for those who are keenly interested in Indian history and culture.

A Passage to India Summary

Dr. Aziz had been doubly snubbed that evening. He had been summoned to the Civil Surgeon’s house while he was taking his supper. When he arrived at the Civil Surgeon’s house he found that his superior had gone to the club without bothering to leave any message. In addition, two English-women emerged from the house and departed in his hired tonga, without even thanking him.

The doctor started going back towards the city of Chandrapore on foot. He was tired and he stopped at a mosque to rest. He was furious when he saw an English woman emerge from behind its pillars with her shoes on as he thought. Mrs. Moore, however, had come barefoot to the mosque. Finding her to be decent and friendly, Dr. Aziz engaged with her in conversation. .

Mrs. Moore had newly arrived from England to visit her son, Ronny Heaslop, the City Magistrate. Dr. Aziz found that they had common ground when he learned that she did not care for the Civil surgeon’s wife. Her disclosure prompted him to toll her about the usurpation of his carriage. The Doctor walked back to the club with her. As an Indian, he could not be admitted.

At the club, Adela, Ronny Heaslop’s prospective fiancée declared that she wanted to see the real India, not the India which came to through the rarified atmosphere of the British colony. To please ladies, one of the members offered to hold, what he whimsically termed, a bridge party and to invite some native guests.

The bridge party was a miserable affair. The Indians retreated one side of the lawn and although the conspicuously reluctant of British ladies went over to visit the natives, an awkward prevailed.

There was, however, one promising result of the party. The Principal of the Government College, Mr. Fielding, a man, who apparently felt neither rancour nor arrogance towards the Indians, invited Mrs. Moore and Adela to a tea party at his house. Upon Adela’s act Mr. Fielding also invited Professor Godbole, a teacher at his school, and Dr. Aziz.

At the tea, Dr. Aziz charmed Fielding and the guests with the elegance and fine intensity of his manners. But the gathering broke up on a discordant note when the priggish and suspicious Ronny Heaslop .chastised Fielding for leaving Adela, his fiancée, alone with Aziz and Godbole. :

Adela, irritated by Heaslop’s callous behaviour, informed him that she did not intend marrying him, but before the evening was over she had changed her mind. During the course of a drive in the Indian countryside, a mysterious figure, perhaps that of an animal, loomed out of the dark and nearly upset the car in which they were riding. Their mutual loneliness and a feeling of the unknown drew them together and Adela asked Ronny to disregard her earlier refusal.

The one extraordinary thing about the city of Chandrapore was a phenomenon of nature known as the Marabar Caves located several miles outside the city. Mrs. Moore and Adela accepted the offer of Dr. Aziz to escort them to the caves; but the visit proved catastrophic for all. Entering in one of the caves, Mrs. Moore realized that no matter what was said the walls returned only a prolonged, booming and hollow echo.

Pondering over that echo while she rested, and pondering over the distance that separated her from Dr. Aziz and Adela and from her own children, Mrs. Moore saw that all her Christianity, all her ideals of moral good and bad, in short, all her ideals of life amounted only to what was made of them by the hollow and booming echo of the Marabar Caves.

Adela entered one of the caves alone. A few minutes later she rushed out terrified; saying that she had been nearly attacked in the gloom. Dr. Aziz, the doctor was arrested.

There had always been a clear division between the natives and the British ruling community, but as the trial of Dr. Aziz drew nearer, each group demanded strict loyalty. When Mrs. Moore told her son that she was sure that Dr. Aziz was not capable of the alleged crime he advised her to go back to England. And when Fielding expressed an identical opinion at the club, he was promptly ostracized.

The tension which marked the opening of the trial had a great affect on all concerned. The first sensational incident occurred when one of Dr. Aziz’s friends rushed into the court room and shouted that Ronny Heaslop had smuggled his mother out of the country because she would have testified to the Doctor’s innocence. When restless Indian spectators heard the name of Mrs. Moore, they worked it into a kind of chant as though she had become a deity. The English colony was not to learn, until later, that Mrs. Moore had already died, aboard the ship.

The second incident concluded the trial. It was Adela’s testimony. The effect of the tense atmosphere of the court-room, the reiteration of Mrs. Moore’s name, and the continued presence of a buzzing sound in her ears since the time she left the caves, produced a trance-like effect upon Adela. Under the interrogation of the prosecuting attorney, she recollected the events at the caves. When she reached the moment of her lingering in the cave, she faltered, suddenly changed her mind and withdrew all charges.

After the conclusion of the trial, Chandrapore remained a bedlam for several hours. The Britishers sulked while the Indians excluded. AS for Adela, so far as British India was concerned she had crossed the line. Ronny Heaslop carefully explained that he could no longer associated with her. After accepting Fielding’s hospitality for a weeks, she returned home. In spite of Dr. Aziz’s increased antipathy to the Britishers, Fielding persuaded him not to press Adela for legal damages.

Two years later, Dr. Aziz became the court physician of an aged Hindu potentate who died on the night of the Krishna festival. The feast was a frantic celebration and the whole town was under spell when Fielding arrived on an official visit. Fielding had got married and Dr. Aziz assuming he had married Adela Quested, avoided his old friend. When he ran into him accidentally, however, he was Mrs. Moore’s daughter Stella, whom Fielding had married. The Doctor felt more embarrassed at his mistake.


The rape that never was: Forster and ‘A Passage to India’

E.M. Forster died 50 years ago, at the age of 91 on June 7, 1970. But it feels that he has been gone for much longer, because the last novel he published in his lifetime was nearly 100 years ago — A Passage to India, in 1924. His long terminal silence was in stark contrast to the brisk fecundity with which he had begun, publishing four novels in the five years between 1905 and 1910.

These included The Longest Journey, an autobiographical novel about his student days of long walks and longer idealistic discussions at King’s College, Cambridge, and a state-of-England novel, Howard’s End, about the class question and the issue of materialist versus spiritual inheritance. In between came his two ‘Italian’ novels, Where Angels Fear to Tread and A Room with a View, in which young English ladies on reaching that fabled country promptly throw their primness to the winds and begin behaving in erotic Mediterranean ways.

Reversing stereotypes

It is A Passage to India, however, which remains Forster’s undoubted masterpiece, a modern classic that regularly ranks high in every poll of the 100 Best Novels on both sides of the Atlantic. It has a special appeal for us in India for it is probably the best novel ever written about the country by an Englishman. Together with half a dozen short stories by Rudyard Kipling and his poetic peripatetic saga Kim (1901) depicting an earlier era, Forster’s novel remains an enduring literary monument of the 200 years of British rule in India. It preserves for us human feelings and attitudes from that fraught period as only literature can.

The story of A Passage to India hinges on a rape that never was. A white young woman accuses a charming Indian Muslim doctor of having assaulted her in a dark cave during a picnic, but at the trial of the accused a few weeks later, she goes to the witness box and says she cannot be sure and is withdrawing all charges.

The pukka sahebs for whom she has become a rallying point of racial honour lose face and the impassioned Indians milling around the court are jubilant as Dr. Aziz walks free. The heroically honest young lady, Adela Quested, is obliged to slink quietly back to England and be left on the shelf, instead of marrying the City Magistrate which she had come out to India to do.

Forster here boldly reverses many Raj stereotypes. The race-and-rape narrative had been common in English novels about India ever since the “Mutiny” of 1857 when several such incidents were believed to have happened. The trope of an oppressed ill-treated native raping a woman of the master race in a token act of revenge for the greater crime of the coloniser having raped his country had been inaugurated in English literature by Shakespeare in The Tempest (1611).

In this play, the last that Shakespeare wrote, the dispossessed and enslaved native Caliban is accused of raping the usurper Prospero’s virginal daughter Miranda, to which he retorts that he wishes he had actually raped her and populated the island with many little Calibans! In a variation on the theme, white women living in tropical colonies sometimes half-wishfully fantasised that they had been raped by a native. Many strands of this potent colonial situation are brought to bear by Forster on the episode in his novel.

Resounding nullity

But then he raises the stakes even higher. He chooses as the venue for the non-rape the Marabar Caves, modelled on the Barabar Caves near Bodh Gaya, the oldest known rock-cut caves in India that have a religious significance encompassing Buddhist, Jain and Hindu beliefs. They are described by Forster as being primal, in being bereft of all carving or sculpture (though one of them, the Lomas Rishi Cave, has in fact a highly ornate entrance). In the novel, the caves generate a bewildering echo which does not return the original human sound but each time utters “Boum!” — which may sound close to “Om” but is deliberately a negation of that pious expectation.

It is within such an elemental womb of resounding nullity that Adela Quested believes an Indian man followed her and attempted to assault her.

As the manuscript reveals, Forster wrote and rewrote this episode many times, apparently because he had no clear idea of what he wanted to happen in the cave, except that he wished this key event to have some large philosophical import. He wanted it to be a “mystery” but it seemed to have turned into a “muddle,” two terms that Forster himself used interchangeably. In an instance of the mimetic fallacy, Forster seems to have thought that if India was a muddle, it had best be represented in a muddled way.

When the novel came out and an old Cambridge friend wrote to ask what exactly happened in the cave, Forster just muddied the waters more: “In the caves it is either a man, or the supernatural, or an illusion. And even if I know!” Perhaps his difficulty here was that he could not abruptly turn symbolic in the middle of a novel which he had written throughout in the comic-ironic mode. A brief abstinence from narratorial omniscience could not all of a sudden raise the comic to the cosmic.

Politically sanitised

Another inconsistency or fissure in the novel is caused by the fact that Forster had begun writing it in 1912 but finished it only in 1924. Meanwhile, a World War had been fought in Europe and the political situation in India had undergone a sea change. The draconian Rowlatt Act had been passed and unarmed protesters against it had been massacred in Jallianwala Bagh in 1919. The following year, Gandhi had launched the nationwide Non-cooperation Movement which had mobilised the entire nation. None of this is reflected in the novel (except for a single allusion to the “crawling order” in Amritsar), so that when the novel was published in June 1924, it already seemed outdated and politically sanitised. Forster may not have known this but just a few months later, in January 1925, Premchand would publish his epic novel of Gandhian nationalism, Rangabhumi.

There are other things here, however, that Forster gets brilliantly right. As Adela walks up the hill with Aziz in a haze of mounting heat and makes desultory conversation with him about his marriage and wife, her subconscious mind is occupied with the vexing question of whether she herself loves the man she is planning to marry. It may not be quite the stream-of-consciousness method that Forster’s Bloomsbury friend Virginia Woolf practised but it is an eddy of Adela’s covert emotional turmoil that the hapless Aziz is sucked into.

Aziz himself is portrayed as a hugely charming but volatile and sentimental man. He obsesses about past Muslim glory when the Mughal emperors ruled the land. His hero among them is not Akbar, whom he calls “half a Hindu,” but Alamgir (i.e., Aurangzeb) who was firm of faith. Later, the Brahmin Godbole (“sweet of speech”) finds Aziz a job in a Hindu princely state safely away from British India, where Aziz, as his ally, is regarded as a Brahmin too and the two “often joke about it together”.

Forster gave up writing novels after A Passage to India because, as a homosexual, he said he had lost interest in love between man and woman which is the staple theme of the English novel. (Of his five man-woman novels, three feature broken engagements.) His one homosexual novel, Maurice, which he wrote in 1913 while A Passage to India hung fire, was published posthumously in 1971. Meanwhile, he had abandoned or burnt several other pieces of such furtive fiction.

Another vein of writing which he gave up no sooner than trying it out was science fiction. In his dystopian short story, ‘The Machine Stops’ (1909), each person lives deep below the surface of the earth in stark “isolation” in a cell, all communication is by “pneumatic mail” or by a Skype-like device, and there is a Book of the Machine which each person swears by and worships. Until, of course, the Machine stops and almost everyone perishes as they try to scramble up to the natural surface of the earth. (But there is no pandemic; just a Big Brother dehumanised into a Machine.)

The less Forster published in his last decades, the more his fame grew. He became in particular the patron saint of aspiring Indian writers in English including Mulk Raj Anand (whom he once called “Mulk of cow” in mild exasperation), Raja Rao and Ahmed Ali, all of whom he helped find publishers in England. In those pre-postcolonial times, Forster had mocked Indian nationalist aspirations even on the last page of A Passage to India (“India a nation!”), and he seemed to think of “politics” as a dirty word. But his own goodness and faith in personal relationships made him an icon of the Liberal humanism that he had grown up with, and privately he continued to swear by “the secret understanding of the heart”.


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Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off—the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.

Inland, the prospect alters. There is an oval Maidan, and a long sallow hospital. Houses belonging to Eurasians stand on the high ground by the railway station. Beyond the railway—which runs parallel to the river—the land sinks, then rises again rather steeply. On the second rise is laid out the little civil station, and viewed hence Chandrapore appears to be a totally different place. It is a city of gardens. It is no city, but a forest sparsely scattered with huts. It is a tropical pleasaunce washed by a noble river. The toddy palms and neem trees and mangoes and pepul that were hidden behind the bazaars now become visible and in their turn hide the bazaars. They rise from the gardens where ancient tanks nourish them, they burst out of stifling purlieus and unconsidered temples. Seeking, light and air, and endowed with more strength than man or his works, they soar above the lower deposit to greet one another with branches and beckoning leaves, and to build a city for the birds. Especially after the rains do they screen what passes below, but at all times, even when scorched or leafless, they glorify the city to the English people who inhabit the rise, so that new-comers cannot believe it to be as meagre as it is described, and have to be driven down to acquire disillusionment. As for the civil station itself, it provokes no emotion. It charms not, neither does it repel. It is sensibly planned, with a red-brick club on its brow, and farther back a grocer’s and a cemetery, and the bungalows are disposed along roads that intersect at right angles. It has nothing hideous in it, and only the view is beautiful; it shares nothing with the city except the overarching sky.

The sky too has its changes, but they are less marked than those of the vegetation and the river. Clouds map it up at times, but it is normally a dome of blending tints, and the main tint blue. By day the blue will pale down into white where it touches the white of the land, after sunset it has a new circumference—orange, melting upwards into tenderest purple. But the core of blue persists, and so it is by night. Then the stars hang like lamps from the immense vault. The distance between the vault and them is as nothing to the distance behind them, and that farther distance, though beyond colour, last freed itself from blue.

The sky settles everything—not only climates and seasons but when the earth shall be beautiful. By herself she can do little—only feeble outbursts of flowers. But when the sky chooses, glory can rain into the Chandrapore bazaars or a benediction pass from horizon to horizon. The sky can do this because it is so strong and so enormous. Strength comes from the sun, infused in it daily, size from the prostrate earth. No mountains infringe on the curve. League after league the earth lies flat, heaves a little, is flat again. Only in the south, where a group of fists and fingers are thrust up through the soil, is the endless expanse interrupted. These fists and fingers are the Marabar Hills, containing the extraordinary caves.




Film adaptations:

A Passage to India – Waris Hussein (1965)

A Passage to India – David Lean (1984)

Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

Biography: Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad was born in Berdyczow, which, at the time of his birth, on December 3, 1857, was a city in Ukraine. His birth name was Jozef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski, anglicized years later when he became a British citizen. Before one of those border realignments that regularly occur in that part of the world, Berdyczow had been a part of the Kingdom of Poland. The distinction is important because Polish nationalism shaped Conrad’s early years. His parents were Polish nobility, and Conrad’s father, in addition to working as a writer and a translator, was a political activist, whose goal was to free Poland from Russian domination.  For this, he was arrested and his family exiled to Vologda. Within seven years, both of Conrad’s parents had died of tuberculosis and he was sent to live with his mother’s brother, his Uncle Tadeusz, in Krakow.

Determined to be a sailor, Conrad left home at 16 and moved to Marseilles, France, where he began his apprenticeship, working entry-level positions on several merchant ships. His career floundered, however, when he learned that to continue this line of work he needed the permission from the Russian consul, who was more likely to conscript Conrad into the Russian army than grant permission. Moreover, Conrad had gambling debts he could not pay. In despair, he wounded himself in the chest in a half-hearted suicide attempt, which prompted his uncle to settle Conrad’s debts and to help him relocate to England. For the next 16 years, Conrad worked in the British mercantile marine, rising in rank to master mariner. In 1886, at the age of 29, he became a British citizen.

In 1890, Conrad captained a steamer up the Congo River, an adventure that inspired Heart of Darkness. As a Pole whose father was a political activist fighting to rebuild a nation ruthlessly conquered by other European powers, Conrad was sensitive to the exploitation and disruption that occurs when one culture will use any means, including aggressive military action, to impose its will upon another. The motive is often the theft of natural resources, such as oil, precious metals, or forests. In Heart of Darkness, it is ivory, valuable in Europe at the time for the manufacture of piano keys, elaborate chess pieces, jewelry, billiard balls, toiletry items, and ornaments of various kinds. Lured by the promise of wealth, adventurers and fortune hunters, with the blessing of Belgium’s King Leopold, who took his cut, rushed to the Congo ready and eager to decimate the elephant population and harvest its ivory. Heart of Darkness was first published in three installments in 1899 in Blackwoods Magazine. In 1902, it was one of the stories in Conrad’s book, Youth, a Narrative, and Two Other Stories. It is among Conrad’s best-known works, and one of the great novellas in the English language.

By 1894, with the help of an inheritance from his uncle, Conrad’s transition from sailor to writer was complete. He married, settled on a farm in Kent, and became a prolific writer, the author of some of the great works of the 20th century: Lord Jim (1899), Typhoon (1902), Nostromo (1904), The Secret Agent (1907), and Under Western Eyes (1911).

The plots of Conrad’s stories often revolve around the relationship between an opinionated but ethical main character—Marlow in Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim—and another essentially decent man, tempted and corrupted by the promise of wealth and power. Nostromo, for example, the head of the longshoreman’s union in a South American country in the midst of a revolution, is entrusted because of his reputation as the most brave and honourable of men to protect a shipment of silver, which the mine owner, Charles Gould, fears will fall into the hands of the revolutionaries. The boat in which Nostromo has hidden the silver is rammed by a warship belonging to the revolutionary forces. Nostromo saves and hides the silver on a deserted island, but he claims it sank with his boat. Embittered by his sense that the elite politicians and businessmen of his nation patronize him, Nostromo begins to recover the silver for himself until he is shot and killed by the island’s lighthouse keeper who mistakes Nostromo for an intruder. Such plots, conflicts, and moral dilemmas make for complex stories with the characters developed with considerable psychological intensity, anticipating the work of Conrad’s great successors: D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce.

Conrad’s style also makes him one of the great novelists of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. His plots are rich and complex, often forsaking a linear narrative in favour of a recursive one, which adds depth and suspense to the story. He did not learn English until he was in his early twenties, and he always spoke with a heavy accent, yet he mastered the vocabulary and the rhythms of the language so thoroughly that the landscapes and the cityscapes that he renders, often in exquisite detail, come to life. His ear for dialogue is equally true.

After 1911, Conrad continued his impressive pace as a novelist and short story writer. Critics generally agree that his best work was behind him, although opinion on the merits of some of his later novels, Chance (1914), Victory (1915), and The Shadow Line (1917), is divided.  Conrad certainly remained a popular novelist, whose works sold well, and who, despite heavy expenses and debts that resulted from a sometimes profligate lifestyle, became a wealthy man. Sales were helped by the stories’ exotic settings and spirit of romantic adventure, which appealed to an ever-growing late-Victorian readership.

Conrad was hard at work, lecturing and writing, until his death in August 1924, with his final novel, Suspense, left unfinished.


Joseph Conrad, Author of Heart of Darkness

Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski; December 3, 1857 – August 3, 1924) was one of the greatest English-language novelists of all time, despite the fact he was born in the Russian Empire to a Polish-speaking family. After a long career in the merchant marine, he eventually settled in England and became one of the most prominent novelists of the early 20th century, writing classics such as Heart of Darkness (1899)Lord Jim (1900), and Nostromo (1904).

Early Life

Joseph Conrad’s family was of Polish descent and lived in Berdychiv, a city now part of Ukraine and then part of the Russian empire. It is located in a region that the Polish sometimes refer to as the «Stolen Lands,» since it was taken from the Kingdom of Poland. Conrad’s father, Apollo Korzeniowski, a writer and political activist, took part in the Polish resistance to Russian rule. He was imprisoned in 1861 when the future author was a young child. The family endured exile to Vologda, three hundred miles north of Moscow, in 1862, and they were later moved to Chernihiv in northeast Ukraine. As a consequence of the family’s struggles, Conrad’s mother, Ewa, died of tuberculosis in 1865.

Apollo raised his son as a single father and introduced him to the works of French novelist Victor Hugo and the plays of William Shakespeare. They moved to the Austrian-held section of Poland in 1867 and enjoyed more freedom. Suffering from tuberculosis like his wife, Apollo died in 1869 leaving his son an orphan at age eleven.

Conrad moved in with his maternal uncle. He was raised to pursue a career as a sailor. At age sixteen, fluent in French, he moved to Marseilles, France, to look for a career in the merchant marine.

Merchant Marine Career

Conrad sailed for four years on French ships before joining the British merchant marine. He served for fifteen more years under the British flag. He eventually rose to the rank of captain. The elevation to that rank came unexpectedly. He sailed on the ship Otago out of Bangkok, Thailand, and the captain died at sea. By the time the Otago arrived at its destination in Singapore, the entire crew except Conrad and the cook were suffering from fever.

The characters in Joseph Conrad’s writing are mostly drawn from his experiences at sea. Three years of association with a Belgian trading company as captain of a ship on the Congo River led directly to the novella Heart of Darkness.

Conrad completed his final long-distance voyage in 1893. One of the passengers on the ship Torrens was 25-year-old future novelist John Galsworthy. He became a good friend of Conrad shortly before the latter began his writing career.

Success as a Novelist

Joseph Conrad was 36 when he left the merchant marine in 1894. He was ready to seek a second career as a writer. He published his first novel Almayer’s Folly in 1895. Conrad was concerned that his English might not be strong enough for publication, but readers soon considered his approach to the language as a non-native writer an asset.

Conrad set the first novel in Borneo, and his second, An Outcast of the Islands, takes place in and around the island of Makassar. The two books helped him develop a reputation as a teller of exotic tales. That depiction of his work frustrated Conrad, who looked to be taken seriously as a top writer of English literature.

During the next fifteen years, Conrad published what most consider the finest works of his career. His novella Heart of Darkness appeared in 1899. He followed it with the novel Lord Jim in 1900 and Nostromo in 1904.

Literary Celebrity

In 1913, Joseph Conrad experienced a commercial breakthrough with the publication of his novel Chance. Today it is not viewed as one of his best works, but it outsold all of his previous novels and left the author with financial security for the rest of his life. It was the first of his novels to focus on a woman as a central character.

Conrad’s next novel, Victory, released in 1915, continued his commercial success. However, critics found the style melodramatic and expressed concern that the author’s artistical skills were fading. Conrad celebrated his financial success by building the house he called Oswalds in Bishopsbourne, Canterbury, England.

Personal Life

Joseph Conrad suffered from a range of physical maladies, most of them due to exposure during his years in the merchant marine. He battled gout and recurrent attacks of malaria. He also struggled occasionally with depression.

In 1896, while in the early years of his writing career, Conrad married Jessie George, an Englishwoman. She gave birth to two sons, Borys and John.

Conrad counted many other prominent writers as friends. Among the closest were future Nobel laureate John Galsworthy, American Henry James, Rudyard Kipling, and collaborator on two novels, Ford Madox Ford.

Later Years

Joseph Conrad continued to write and publish novels through his final years. Many observers considered the five years after World War I ended in 1919 the most peaceful part of the author’s life. Some of Conrad’s contemporaries pushed for recognition with a Nobel Prize for Literature, but it was not forthcoming.

In April 1924, Joseph Conrad turned down the offer of a British knighthood due to his background in Polish nobility. He also turned down offers of honorary degrees from five prestigious universities. In August 1924, Conrad died at his home of an apparent heart attack. He is buried with his wife, Jessie, in Canterbury, England.


Shortly after Joseph Conrad’s death, many critics focused on his ability to create stories that illuminated exotic locales and to humanize sordid events. Later analysis has focused on deeper elements in his fiction. He often examines the corruption that lies just beneath the surface of otherwise admirable characters. Conrad focuses on fidelity as a crucial theme. It can save the soul and wreak terrible destruction when it is breached.

Conrad’s powerful narrative style and the use of anti-heroes as main characters have influenced a wide range of great writers of the 20th century, from William Faulkner to George Orwell and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. He paved the way for the development of modernist fiction.


The path of an exiled writer: Joseph Conrad and Poland

A lot of Polish celebrities and historical figures, known all around the world, share a strange similarity: their names do not sound Polish, at all. Copernicus lacks the traditional -ski or -icz suffixes; Marie Curie or Chopin are designated by an English name – the name of her husband for Maria Skłodowska Curie, his own family name for Chopin, whose father was French. One of the most prominent Polish writers, and probably the one who had the most important literary impact beyond the borders of Poland, is in the same situation: Józef Korzeniowski, better known under his pen name: Joseph Conrad.

Is Joseph Conrad a Polish writer?

However, an English denomination seems more fitting for Joseph Conrad than for Copernicus or Marie Curie. He wrote all his major novels, from Almayer’s Folly or The Secret Agent to Heart of Darkness and Lord Jim in English rather than in his mother tongue. A question then arises: Can Joseph Conrad, an English-speaking writer who left his country in 1874 to become a sailor when he was only sixteen years old can still be considered as a Polish writer?

The question has been lengthily debated by literary specialists throughout the years. The reminiscences of Poland in the life and the literary choices of Joseph Conrad is, nonetheless, undoubted: the Polish references are tenuous, but present. The writer’s pen-name itself can be read as a Polish memorabilia: the name ‘Conrad’ has had a long history in Polish literature.

Conrad’s subtle link to his native country

Adam Mickiewicz, arguably the most important Polish poet, used the name Konrad in two of his major works: the main character of Konrad Wallenrod as well as The Forefathers’ Eve Konrad both bear this name. Konrad Wallenrod tells the story of the eponymous character, a Lithuanian pagan who has been captured by knights of the Teutonic order. In an act of patriotism, he deliberately provokes the military defeat of the knights. In The Forefathers’ Eve, also called Dziady, Gustaw, a desperate lover, transforms himself into Konrad, who wants to rise up and fight for Polish freedom.

By choosing this pseudonym, Conrad references to his own true name (Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) as well as Polish literature. Even more symbolically, all the main fictional characters linked to this name carry and embody the idea of Polish freedom and independence.

The influence of Poland is also noticeable in Joseph Conrad’s works. In Under Western Eyes, the writer portrays a negative image of Russia that reminds the reader of the revolt against the Russian Empire expressed by a lot of 19th century Polish writers, from Mickiewicz to Wyspiański. This novel tells the story of Kyrilo Razumov, a Russian spy. Falling in love with Natalia, the sister of Haldin, a revolutionary he betrayed, he will admit his treason to Haldin’s fellows.

Jessie Conrad, the writer’s wife, declared that while writing Under Western Eyes, Conrad, in his delirium, had conversations with the characters… in Polish. Under Western Eyes seems to have acted for Conrad as a return to his own childhood, native country and national roots; even if the novel takes place in Russia, the author experienced his writing like a tribute to Poland.

The struggle of exile and estrangement

In the same way, Conrad’s Amy Foster acts like a reminder of Poland for a writer known for a literature centered around the vast seas or Africa. This novella introduces the reader to the character of Yanko Goorall, a Central European emigrant and shipwrecked sailor, who marries Amy Foster. His name is the English transliteration of his real name: he was probably called Janko Góral, and was Polish.

This novella tells the life of a man estranged from the country he lives in, like Conrad himself, he who left Poland when he was sixteen years old to become a sailor, and never came back. Goorall is isolated in his language and his culture. When he and Amy Foster have a child, the narrator declares: “And I discovered [Yanko Goorall] longed for their boy to grow up so that he could have a man to talk with in that language that to our ears sounded so disturbing, so passionate, and so bizarre.”

Given these elements, a lot of literary specialists have wanted to qualify Joseph Conrad as a Polish writer. But Conrad wrote in English, and left Poland when he was a mere teenager: does a writer always need to stand up for his country? Does a writing have to be attached to a territory, a physical place?

Conrad, the ultimate stateless author?

Conrad’s most significant and influential novels do not speak about Poland nor Central Europe. Lord Jim takes place between the ocean and southern Asia, while Heart of Darkness is set in Africa. His first novel, Almayer’s Folly, takes place in Borneo. The list goes on. Joseph Conrad should firstly be seen as a writer in his own right, rather, as many specialists would have it, than as the translator and flag-bearer of a country.

His writing itself is strangely detached from his origins. Although he writes in English, Polish turns of phrases are absent from his style. Even more surprising, his English is keenly influenced by another foreign language: French. He only considers English as a third language, after Polish and French, that he learned when he lived in Marseilles. Joseph Conrad himself wrote that “when I write I translate the words of my thoughts in French. This is an impossible process for one desiring to make a living by writing in the English language”.

Conrad’s writing is filled with Gallicisms and French references. The writer often uses the determiner in a manner more French than English—”How the time passes!”, writes Conrad in Lord Jim. He often gets the false friends mixed up. Conrad’s writing idiom was neither French, Polish nor English, but a mix of all these languages.

Rather than a Polish writer, Joseph Conrad can be seen as the ultimate international author, or a stateless one. His influence is not limited to English-speaking countries, even though writers like Francis Scott Fitzgerald or William Faulkner recognised the debt their writings owe to Conrad.

Joseph Conrad back to his roots

One of the most striking echoes of his work in the last year, however, happened in Poland. Jacek Dukaj, a popular contemporary Polish writer, known for his science fiction works such as Lód or Katedra, decided to rewrite Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, under the title Serce ciemności. As Dukaj himself declared: “I’m not a translator, I am the author of Joseph Conrad writing Heart of Darkness for the 21st century reader”.

For a 21st century reader as well as for a Polish reader: With his endeavor, Jacek Dukaj gave Joseph Conrad back to his native country through Polish language, a restitution that could only be accomplished nearly a hundred years after Conrad’s death.


Looking back on Joseph Conrad: Poland’s most famous errant author

Poland isn’t known for its nautical traditions, so it is perhaps surprising that one of literature’s most famous seafarers was a Pole. 

Joseph Conrad was just four years old when his family were exiled from Warsaw on account of his father’s pro-independence and anti-Russian activities and 17 when, an orphan, he first boarded a ship at Marseille. Twenty years of service in the merchant navy, first French, then English, provided the material for most of his literary works which on the other hand seem devoid of any reference to his motherland.

That has not stopped the critics from finding Poland in the books. His apparent obsession with honour, its paradoxes and its loss bear remarkable resemblance to the treatment of similar themes in Polish Romanticism of the first half of the nineteenth century. And his most famous works all resonate with subtle, yet unmistakable Polish echoes.

Lord Jim, the story of a disgraced sailor unable to live down his shame, looks to some critics like an allegory of the author’s own position. As Conrad started work on the novel, a famous (at the time, now little read) Polish novelist made a widely discussed denunciation of him for abandoning his native country in favour of a career abroad. The cosmopolitan Conrad comes out poorly in comparison that she made to his father, sent into exile for patriotic agitation.

Such criticism reached Conrad’s ears just as he was drawing up his story of a sailor literally abandoning ship – much as he was accused of metaphorically doing. While he never made the analogy explicit himself, some readers have seen in Lord Jim an allegorical self-portrait.

The Secret Agent concerns itself with revolutionaries, based in London and of apparently internationalist persuasions but in their conspiratorial lives not unlike, perhaps, his own father. Conrad was a child when he died, yet his father’s willingness to make sacrifice for his politics was a key factor in shaping his life.

Most famous of all his works, the Heart of Darkness may have little obvious connection to a central European country that never had much of a navy, let alone African colonies. Yet the position of Poland as a former empire that at the time of writing had itself been part of Russia’s colonial empire for over a century arguably helped give Poles a unique vantage point from which to view Europe’s overseas ventures. At the same time as Conrad made it clear to the reading public that the “white man’s burden” was in fact carried by the colonised Africans, another Pole, Bronisław Malinowski was busy establishing anthropology as a social science, rigorous, respectful study of “primitive” cultures on their own terms.

Such efforts at interpretation, finding hidden meaning in works of literature is, of course, always fraught with difficulty and perhaps irredeemably subjective. Better then to let Conrad speak for himsef: “English critics […] whenever they discuss my work, always add that there’s something incomprehensible, unfathomable and elusive about it,» he told a Polish interviewer towards the end of his life. «Only you can capture this elusiveness, fathom the unfathomable. It’s Polishness.”



Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad [A Review]

From humble beginnings, Joseph Conrad’s novella, Heart of Darkness, rose to become a classroom staple for much of the twentieth century. Its themes of racism and colonial exploitation within an evocative and enigmatic story, showcasing techniques that would influence later masters, ensured a prominent place for analysis. Whether it still retains its relevance is an open question. Despite whatever the novel’s shortcomings may be, and however confident we may be in our own moral superiority to the past, it is surely always a mistake to not examine and appreciate the past for what it was.

Four men aboard a yacht on the eastern Thames anchor for the night. The men are pensive, contemplative, in no mood for talk or games. But, somewhat expectedly, one of the men – Marlow – has a tale he wants to share.

Marlow tells them how, as a young man, he had a strong desire for adventure, for seeking out the edges of the known world, and had always felt certain perilous temptation when looking upon the serpentine shape of the Congo as it looks on a map.

Going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest.

Marlow manages to get a job as a steamboat captain, replacing a man who was killed in an argument with natives. Arriving on the African coast, meeting with the company accountant, Marlow first hears of Kurtz; a name that will obsess him during his short time in Africa. Kurtz is a notorious agent for the company. He sends downriver as much ivory as all the other agents combined and an aura of mystery and expectation surrounds him. His success has won him great admiration and jealous enemies.

The point was in his being a gifted creature, and that of all his gifts the one that stood out pre-eminently, that carried with it a sense of real presence, was his ability to talk, his words – the gift of expression, the bewildering, the illuminating, the most exalted and most contemptible, the pulsating stream of light, or the deceitful flow from the heart of an impenetrable darkness.

But Marlow has plenty to deal with of his own. First there is a 200-mile trek inland to reach the central station. Arriving, he finds that the ship he is meant to captain has sunk and it may take months to fish it out and repair it. They need to work fast; the stations upriver and deeper inland rely heavily on regular supplies from the central station. And Kurtz is said to be ill, his station in jeopardy.

Marlow finds himself rapidly becoming obsessed with this enigmatic figure. He desperately hopes to find Kurtz alive and to listen to what he has to say.

Heart of Darkness has a great opening. The writing is very pretty and the story is immediately evocative and transporting. You instantly feel as if you are one of those aboard the yacht, listening to the old seaman telling his tale.

One ship is very much like another, and the sea is always the same. In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past, veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance; for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself, which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny.

Once Conrad has put you at ease in this relaxed setting he lets Marlow’s story unsettle you with its sense of danger, mystery and ultimately, horror.

Racism, colonialism and imperialism appear to be key themes of the novel. Owen Knowles, who contributed the introduction to this Penguin Classics edition seems to agree. At the time of writing, in the late nineteenth century, European powers were in a scramble to systematically annex and exploit Africa, just as there had been earlier scrambles for the Americas, India and China. As in the previous cases, the argument that the European has a moral duty to ‘civilise’ the non-European served to both disguise and justify the exploitation. Stories about the crimes of exploitation were just beginning to filter through to the public. One interpretation of the novel is that Conrad, via Marlow, is speaking out. Within a few years of the publication of Heart of Darkness (1899) came the Boer War and the Atrocities in the Congo Free State and a noticeable shift in European attitudes.

They were no colonists; their administration was merely a squeeze, and nothing more, I suspect. They were conquerors, and for that you want only brute force – nothing to boast of, when you have it, since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. They grabbed what they could get and for the sake of what was to be got. It was just robbery with violence, aggravated murder on a great scale, and men going at it blind – as is very proper for those who tackle a darkness. The conquest of the earth, which mostly means the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves, it is not a pretty thing when you look into it too much.

That being said, Marlow is not immune to the prejudices that were pervasive to his culture and time.

And between the whiles I had to look after the savage who was fireman. He was an improved specimen; he could fire up a vertical boiler. He was there below me, and, upon my word, to look at him was as edifying as seeing a dog in a parody of breeches and a feather hat, walking on his hind legs.

In addition, not everyone is as generous in bestowing credit to Conrad for raising consciousness on these issues. Notably, Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, wrote an angry and controversial essay criticising Heart of Darkness, chiefly for its assumption of ‘civilisation’, as defined by the West with Africa and Africans outside of it, and the omission of any African voice speaking to the issues raised in the novel.

While I won’t be defending Conrad on these charges, I do want to say a couple of things that add to the complexity of how to read and interpret Heart of Darkness. The first is that Heart of Darkness is based heavily on Conrad’s own experiences in the Congo. Like Marlow, Conrad was also hired to captain a steamboat whose previous captain had been killed by natives. This edition of Heart of Darkness includes excerpts from Conrad’s Congo Diary. It shows that in Heart of Darkness the line between fact and fiction, between reportage and storytelling is blurred. While we consider the issue of how much the novel speaks out against racism and exploitation and whether it is able to completely escape racism itself, we should also ask to what extent it provides an accurate window into a time, a place and a people and to both the racism and abhorrence of it in that context.

Which leads to the second thing I wanted to say. Fiction has the power to transport the reader and allow them to vicariously experience and empathise with the lives of others. When fiction was written or set in the past it allows the reader to time-travel as well. It is not the characters and the author who travel to our time for us to judge them by our standards, as satisfying as some might find that. Rather it is the reader who is transported to their time to glimpse what that life was like. Understandably, some might not find it a pleasant experience in some cases. Some might also object to any suggestion that we should feel grateful for how far things have come, given how much is left to do and the fate of those born to soon, which is fine. But there is still much to learn from the past. At least, if we don’t wish to feel grateful, we should also avoid its mirror; complacency.

Heart of Darkness is often cited as an early example of the modernist style that would become prevalent in the coming decades. That is clear to see in parts two and three of the novella. While the novel had a beautiful beginning and an engrossing hook of mystery it soon becomes difficult. As Marlow edges closer to the edges of the map, his storytelling begins slipping into stream-of-consciousness, becomes disjointed, unstructured, dreamlike. I admittedly had difficulty following what was really going on and how to interpret it.

In the end, I can’t say I greatly enjoyed Heart of Darkness, but maybe my expectations were too high. Maybe I was expected Apocalypse Now in book form! It is interesting how this novella, largely ignored when it was first published, and even its author considered it to be a minor work, came to be seen as highly influential and a standard text for high-school and university students. Perhaps its effort to speak to racism and colonial exploitation made it more relevant as time went on, both for what it achieved in that regard and for where it failed. Perhaps its modernist technique lends it enough ambiguity to make interpretation futile and subjective, vulnerable to endless analysis and reinterpretation, leaving the reader to see what they expect to see in it. Or perhaps that same technique makes it an important study as an antecedent for those who came in its wake – James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner among them.


How Conrad’s imperial horror story Heart of Darkness resonates with our globalised times

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – or “The Heart of Darkness”, as it was known to its first readers – was first published as a serial in 1899, in the popular monthly Blackwood’s Magazine. Few of that magazine’s subscribers could have foreseen the fame that Conrad’s story would eventually garner, or the fierce debates it would later provoke.

Already, in 1922, the American poet T.S. Eliot thought the book was Zeitgeist-y enough to provide the epigraph for his epoch-defining poem, The Waste Land – although another American poet, Ezra Pound, talked him out of using it.

The same thought occurred to Francis Ford Coppola more than 50 years later, when he used Conrad’s story as the framework for his phantasmagoric Vietnam War movie, Apocalypse Now. Echoes of Heart of Darkness can pop up almost anywhere: the chorus to a Gang of Four song, the title of a Simpsons episode, a scene in Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong remake.

Consider one final Heart of Darkness allusion, from Mohsin Hamid’s 2017 Man Booker-shortlisted novel, Exit West. In the novel’s opening pages, a man with “dark skin and dark, woolly hair” appears in a Sydney bedroom, transported there by one of the mysterious portals that have appeared around the globe, connecting stable, prosperous countries with places that people need to escape from.

The “door”, as these wormholes are called, is “a rectangle of complete darkness — the heart of darkness”. This is a more complicated kind of Conrad reference. Here, “heart of darkness” is a shorthand for European stereotypes of Africa, which Conrad’s novel did its part to reinforce.

Hamid’s line plays on racist anxieties about immigration: the idea that certain places and peoples are primitive, exotic, dangerous. For contemporary readers and writers, these questions have become an unavoidable part of Conrad’s legacy, too.

Up the river

Heart of Darkness is the story of an English seaman, Charles Marlow, who is hired by a Belgian company to captain a river steamer in the recently established Congo Free State. Almost as soon as he arrives in the Congo, Marlow begins to hear rumours about another company employee, Kurtz, who is stationed deep in the interior of the country, hundreds of miles up the Congo River.

The second half of the novel – or novella, as it’s often labelled – relates Marlow’s journey upriver and his meeting with Kurtz. His health destroyed by years in the jungle, Kurtz dies on the journey back down to the coast, though not before Marlow has had a chance to glimpse “the barren darkness of his heart”. The coda to Marlow’s Congo story takes place in Europe: questioned by Kurtz’s “Intended” about his last moments, Marlow decides to tell a comforting lie, rather than reveal the truth about his descent into madness.

Although Conrad never met anyone quite like Kurtz in the Congo, the structure of Marlow’s story is based closely on his experiences as mate and, temporarily, captain of the Roi des Belges, a Congo river steamer, in 1890. By this time, Conrad, born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski in the Russian-ruled part of Poland in 1857, had been a seaman for about 15 years, rising to the rank of master in the British merchant service. (The remains of the only sailing ship he ever commanded, the Otago, have ended up in Hobart, a rusted, half-submerged shell on the banks of the Derwent.)

Sick with fever and disenchanted with his colleagues and superiors, he broke his contract after only six months, and returned to London in early 1891. Three years and two ships later, Conrad retired from the sea and embarked on a career as a writer, publishing the novel that he had been working on since before he visited the Congo, Almayer’s Folly, in 1895. A second novel, An Outcast of the Islands, followed, along with several stories. Conrad’s second career was humming along when he finally set about transforming his Congo experience into fiction in 1898.

Darkness at home and abroad

Heart of Darkness opens on a ship, but not one of the commercial vessels that feature in Conrad’s sea stories. Rather, it’s a private yacht, the Nellie, moored at Gravesend, about 20 miles east of the City of London. The five male friends gathered on board were once sailors, but everyone except Marlow has since changed careers, as Conrad himself had done.

Like sail, which was rapidly being displaced by steam-power, Marlow is introduced to us as an anachronism, still devoted to the profession his companions have left behind. When, amidst the gathering “gloom”, he begins to reminisce about his stint as a “fresh-water sailor”, his companions know they are in for one of his “inconclusive experiences”.

Setting the opening of Heart of Darkness on the Thames also allowed Conrad to foreshadow one of the novel’s central conceits: the lack of any absolute, essential difference between so-called civilized societies and so-called primitive ones. “This, too”, Marlow says, “has been one of the dark places of the earth”, imagining the impressions of an ancient Roman soldier, arriving in what was then a remote, desolate corner of the empire.

During the second half of the 19th century, spurious theories of racial superiority were used to legitimate empire-building, justifying European rule over native populations in places where they had no other obvious right to be. Marlow, however, is too cynical to accept this convenient fiction. The “conquest of the earth”, he says, was not the manifest destiny of European peoples; rather, it simply meant “the taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves.”

The idea that Africans and Europeans have more in common than the latter might care to admit recurs later, when Marlow describes observing tribal ceremonies on the banks of the river. Confronted with local villagers “stamping” and “swaying”, their “eyes rolling”, he is shaken by a feeling of “remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar”.

Whereas most contemporary readers will be cheered by Marlow’s scepticism about the project of empire, this image of Congo’s indigenous inhabitants is more problematic. “Going up that river”, Marlow says, “was like travelling back to the earliest beginnings of the world”, and he accordingly sees the dancing figures as remnants of “prehistoric man”.

Heart of Darkness suggests that Europeans are not essentially more highly-evolved or enlightened than the people whose territories they invade. To this extent, it punctures one of the myths of imperialist race theory. But, as the critic Patrick Brantlinger has argued, it also portrays Congolese villagers as primitiveness personified, inhabitants of a land that time forgot.

Kurtz is shown as the ultimate proof of this “kinship” between enlightened Europeans and the “savages” they are supposed to be civilising. Kurtz had once written an idealistic “report” for an organisation called the International Society for the Suppression of Savage Customs. When Marlow finds this manuscript among Kurtz’s papers, however, it bears a hastily-scrawled addendum: “Exterminate all the brutes!” The Kurtz that Marlow finally encounters at the end of the novel has been consumed by the same “forgotten and brutal instincts” he once intended to suppress.

Adventure on acid

The European “gone native” on the fringes of empire was a stock trope, which Conrad himself had already explored elsewhere in his writing, but Heart of Darkness takes this cliché of imperial adventure fiction and sends it on an acid trip. The manic, emaciated Kurtz that Marlow finds at the Inner Station is straight out of the pages of late-Victorian neo-Gothic, more Bram Stoker or Sheridan Le Fanu than Henry Rider Haggard. The “wilderness” has possessed Kurtz, “loved him, embraced him, got into his veins” — it is no wonder that Marlow feels “creepy all over” just thinking about it.

Kurtz’s famous last words are “The horror! The horror!” “Horror” is also the feeling that Kurtz and his monstrous jungle compound, with its decorative display of human heads, are supposed to evoke in the reader. Along with its various other generic affiliations — imperial romance, psychological novel, impressionist tour de force — Heart of Darkness is a horror story.

Conrad’s Kurtz also channels turn-of-the-century anxieties about mass media and mass politics. One of Kurtz’s defining qualities in the novel is “eloquence”: Marlow refers to him repeatedly as “A voice!”, and his report on Savage Customs is written in a rhetorical, highfalutin style, short on practical details but long on sonorous abstractions. Marlow never discovers Kurtz’s real “profession”, but he gets the impression that he was somehow connected with the press — either a “journalist who could paint” or a “painter who wrote for the papers”.

This seems to be confirmed when a Belgian journalist turns up in Antwerp after Kurtz’s death, referring to him as his “dear colleague” and sniffing around for anything he can use as copy. Marlow fobs him off with the bombastic report, which the journalist accepts happily enough. For Conrad, implicitly, Kurtz’s mendacious eloquence is just the kind of thing that unscrupulous popular newspapers like to print.

If Kurtz’s “colleague” is to be believed, moreover, his peculiar gifts might also have found an outlet in populist politics: “He would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party.” Had he returned to Europe, that is, the same faculty that enabled Kurtz to impose his mad will on the tribespeople of the upper Congo might have found a wider audience.

Politically, Conrad tended to be on the right, and this image of Kurtz as an extremist demagogue expresses a habitual pessimism about mass democracy — in 1899, still a relatively recent phenomenon. Nonetheless, in the light of the totalitarian regimes that emerged in Italy, Germany and Russia after 1918, Kurtz’s combination of irresistible charisma with megalomaniacal brutality seems prescient.

These concerns about political populism also resonate with recent democratic processes in the US and the UK, among other places. Only Conrad’s emphasis on “eloquence” now seems quaint: as the 2016 US Presidential Election demonstrated, an absence of rhetorical flair is no handicap in the arena of contemporary populist debate.

Race and empire

Heart of Darkness contains a bitter critique of imperialism in the Congo, which Conrad condemns as “rapacious and pitiless folly”. The backlash against the systematic abuse and exploitation of Congo’s indigenous inhabitants did not really get underway until the first decade of the 20th century, so that the anti-imperialist theme was ahead of its time, if only by a few years. Nor does Conrad have any patience with complacent European beliefs about racial superiority.

Nonetheless, the novel also contains representations of Africans that would rightly be described as racist if they were written today. In particular, Conrad shows little interest in the experience of Marlow’s “cannibal” shipmates, who come across as exotic caricatures. It is images like these that led the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe to denounce Conrad as a “bloody racist”, in an influential 1977 essay.

One response to this criticism is to argue, as Paul B. Armstrong does, that the lack of more rounded Congolese characters is the point. By sticking to Marlow’s limited perspective, Heart of Darkness gives an authentic portrayal of how people see other cultures. But this doesn’t necessarily make the images themselves any less offensive.

If Achebe did not succeed in having Heart of Darkness struck from the canon, he did ensure that academics writing about the novel could no longer ignore the question of race. For Urmila Seshagiri, Heart of Darkness shows that race is not the stable, scientific category that many Victorians thought it was. This kind of argument shifts the debate in a different direction, away from the author’s putative “racism”, and onto the novel’s complex portrayal of race itself.

Perhaps because he was himself an alien in Britain, whose first career had taken him to the farthest corners of the globe, Conrad’s novels and stories often seem more in tune with our globalized world than those of some of his contemporaries. An émigré at 16, Conrad experienced to a high degree the kind of dislocation that has become an increasingly typical modern condition. It is entirely appropriate, in more ways than one, for Hamid to allude to Conrad in a novel about global mobility.

The paradox of Heart of Darkness is that it seems at once so improbable and so necessary. It is impossible not to be astonished, when you think of it, that a Polish ex-sailor, writing in his third language, was ever in a position to author such a story, on such a subject. And yet, in another way, Conrad’s life seems more determined than most, in more direct contact with the great forces of history. It is from this point of view that Heart of Darkness seems necessary, even inevitable, the product of dark historical energies, which continue to shape our contemporary world.


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The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.

The sea-reach of the Thames stretched before us like the beginning of an interminable waterway. In the offing the sea and the sky were welded together without a joint, and in the luminous space the tanned sails of the barges drifting up with the tide seemed to stand still in red clusters of canvas sharply peaked, with gleams of varnished sprits. A haze rested on the low shores that ran out to sea in vanishing flatness. The air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into a mournful gloom, brooding motionless over the biggest, and the greatest, town on earth.

The Director of Companies was our captain and our host. We four affectionately watched his back as he stood in the bows looking to seaward. On the whole river there was nothing that looked half so nautical. He resembled a pilot, which to a seaman is trustworthiness personified. It was difficult to realize his work was not out there in the luminous estuary, but behind him, within the brooding gloom.

Between us there was, as I have already said somewhere, the bond of the sea. Besides holding our hearts together through long periods of separation, it had the effect of making us tolerant of each other’s yarns—and even convictions. The Lawyer—the best of old fellows—had, because of his many years and many virtues, the only cushion on deck, and was lying on the only rug. The Accountant had brought out already a box of dominoes, and was toying architecturally with the bones. Marlow sat cross-legged right aft, leaning against the mizzen-mast. He had sunken cheeks, a yellow complexion, a straight back, an ascetic aspect, and, with his arms dropped, the palms of hands outwards, resembled an idol. The director, satisfied the anchor had good hold, made his way aft and sat down amongst us. We exchanged a few words lazily. Afterwards there was silence on board the yacht. For some reason or other we did not begin that game of dominoes. We felt meditative, and fit for nothing but placid staring. The day was ending in a serenity of still and exquisite brilliance. The water shone pacifically; the sky, without a speck, was a benign immensity of unstained light; the very mist on the Essex marsh was like a gauzy and radiant fabric, hung from the wooded rises inland, and draping the low shores in diaphanous folds. Only the gloom to the west, brooding over the upper reaches, became more sombre every minute, as if angered by the approach of the sun.

And at last, in its curved and imperceptible fall, the sun sank low, and from glowing white changed to a dull red without rays and without heat, as if about to go out suddenly, stricken to death by the touch of that gloom brooding over a crowd of men.


Listening & Reading:


Movie and television adaptations:

Heart of DarknessRon Winston (1958)

Apocalypse NowFrancis Ford Coppola (1979)

Heart of DarknessNicolas Roeg (1993)

(Tarik O’Regan’s) Heart of Darkness – Opera Parallèle (2015)


Voyager avec Jules Verne (II): Voyage au centre de la Terre et De la Terre à la Lune

Jules Verne: voyage au coeur de l’oeuvre d’un visionnaire

Peu après la mort de Jules Verne survenue le 24 mars 1905, Eugène Morel exprime dans « La Nouvelle Revue » d’avril 1905 toute son admiration pour un esprit boudé par les littérateurs de l’époque, qu’il avait pris grand plaisir à rencontrer à Amiens en 1890. Véritable plaidoyer pour l’auteur du « Tour du monde en 80 jours » dont les écrits alimentent les rêves et enflamment l’imagination, ce témoignage constitue un autre regard sur Jules Verne, nous le montrant dans toute sa force et sa singularité, celles d’un homme qui délaissa la trépidante vie parisienne pour se réfugier avec délice à Amiens, sans avoir eu à renoncer au succès que lui enviaient ses détracteurs…

Faisons effort de sincérité et interrogeons-nous. De tout ce que nous avons lu, qu’est-ce qui nous a le plus frappé ? Quelle est l’influence la plus grande, en intensité ? Tâchons de déterminer le plus grand éducateur des Français de l’âge mûr au début du XXe siècle ? Au début du XIXe, je crois qu’on n’aurait pas hésité à répondre : Rousseau ; au milieu : Lamartine. Mais aujourd’hui ? On citera Hugo, Zola… et chacun le sien. Il y a Dumas père, il y a aussi Huysmans, il y a Verlaine, Tolstoï, Maeterlinck. Et Wagner, certainement ! Mais avant ? Avant cela… Car c’est toujours le dernier qu’on cite de préférence. Oh ! que de peine à avouer, et comme il faut presser les gens pour qu’ils disent : ah ! oui… Jules Verne !

Mais il y a aussi la masse de tous les autres, troupeau immense qui à tout jamais cessa de lire ! Ils ont lu Jules Verne, et ils ont clos les livres.

Oui, on l’a beaucoup lu, il faut bien l’avouer, ce fut un des plus lus, peut-être le plus lu. Mais il s’entend que son influence fut nulle. On l’a lu « à l’âge où ça n’a pas d’importance… » O hérésie ! A quel âge donc quelque chose aurait-il de l’importance… On l’a lu, songez-y, de huit à quinze, en plein développement… Il n’y a qu’alors que les lectures comptent vraiment. On ne met pas de tuteur à un chêne de cinquante ans.

Changeons les points de vue. Regardons les effets. C’est la « Découverte de la Terre » et sa conquête, l’industrie triomphante, Suez, le transsibérien, le téléphone, les sous-marins, les dirigeables, les villes immenses poussées en quelques mois et le tour du monde en bien moins de 80 jours ! Pourquoi énumérer… Le tableau de la Terre ces quarante derniers ans ? il n’y a qu’à prendre la liste des romans de Jules Verne. Tout cela ce serait fait, me dit-on, sans lui. Sans Voltaire et Rousseau la Révolution aussi se serait faite. Autrement ! Mais c’est faire des hypothèses absurdes. La force qui montait devait produire toutes ces choses, littérature, révolution, industrie. Les fleurs viennent d’abord : le roman précède l’histoire.

Goncourt se vantait d’avoir créé les trois grands mouvements qu’il voyait dans les esprits : le naturalisme, le dix-huitième siècle, le japonisme. Peut-être ce précurseur ne se serait pas cru l’auteur de ces mouvements, s’il s’était demandé quelles causes l’avaient poussé, lui-même, le premier ! Jules Verne ne s’est pas vanté d’avoir prévu trois mouvements de quelque importance : l’anglomanie, le machinisme, le tourisme.

L’influence d’un livre reste toujours discutable, même quand on trouve la bombe à côté de la brochure. Je crois, cependant, qu’il y a peu de livres qui agirent si efficacement que ceux de Verne. N’en doutons pas, tout y prêtait : l’âge d’abord de ceux auxquels il s’adressait ; l’universalité de ses lecteurs ; grands et petits ! toute une nation, que dis-je ! presque toutes les nations ; les triomphantes du moins, l’Angleterre plus que toutes ! et le Japon l’adorait ! Il fut le vrai, le grand, le puissant professeur d’énergie. Il y a en lui une morale, un état d’être, comment dire…, une religion ? enfin quelque chose… un lot d’idées, de méthodes avec lesquels on peut vivre, et vivre bien.

Et ce furent les livres les plus répandus ! plus répandus que les romans d’adultères qui font honnir partout le nom français, plus efficaces puisqu’au lieu de troubler l’esprit de femmes oisives, ils agissaient sur la plus vive, active et jeune humanité ! Influence nullement comparable à celle d’un Dumas, qui ne fut qu’un amuseur, parce qu’il versait vraiment des idées, des motifs d’action, et que, s’il est quelques polissons par ce monde que Dumas a pu pousser à se faire mousquetaires, que de marins, d’ingénieurs, de savants, d’explorateurs, de colonisateurs, ou, très humbles, de souscripteurs, d’auditeurs d’œuvres géographiques, et surtout cette masse énorme de petits actionnaires d’entreprises lointaines ont dû leur vocation, ont dû « leur foi » aux beaux romans qu’on lit vers treize ou quatorze ans.

Cet homme eut pour métier d’ouvrir des horizons. Il révolutionna la tête des jeunes bourgeois, qu’il arracha en masse à l’idéal fonctionnaire. « Quand on nous donnait en exemple les héros de Plutarque, écrit Louis Lumet, c’était ceux de Jules Verne que nous nous proposions d’imiter… Il nous a donné la terre et l’air comme domaine et il nous a appris que les forces de la nature, ennemies de l’homme nu, étaient prêtes à le servir s’il s’efforçait de les y contraindre. »

Or cet homme ne compte pas dans les « littérateurs ». Il n’est ni des Parnasses ni de l’Académie. Ni avancé, ni réactionnaire. Il n’est d’aucun mouvement – lui qui en créa de si grands ! Sa personne est à peu près inconnue ! Il meurt. L’empereur d’Allemagne s’occupe un peu de lui. Mais la France ne bouge pas. Il semble réellement que la chaire de littérature au Collège de France a sur l’éducation nationale plus d’importance. On ne l’avoue pas. On lui en veut de l’avoir aimé. Ecoutez. C’est peut-être vraiment une honte de l’aimer ? C’est peut-être bas, sot, mal écrit, sans valeur. J’ai des haines, je les sens féroces, les contiens mal. Non pour les auteurs qui ne sont que mauvais, mais pour ceux auxquels j’ai cru, un moment, qui ont trompé mon goût, me laissent la honte d’une erreur. Mais Jules Verne !

Je n’ai pas voulu faire un article de souvenir, exhumer des faiblesses… je l’ai relu. C’est très beau ! Cela vous refait jeune… C’est plein de vérité, de force. Une vie toute puissante circule dans ces œuvres. Je l’ai relu, ayant vu tel pays qu’il décrit… Et j’ai vu ces fictions faites de matière vraie comme le plus exact de nos rêves. Pourquoi ce dédain ? Parce qu’il ne vivait plus à Paris ? Comme Erckmann-Chatrian, auquel on rend si peu justice ? N’a-t-il fallu qu’un peu de snobisme pour le faire grand ?

Mais il y a ceci, qui tient au plus vil de nous-même, car c’est être bien petit que refuser de l’avoir été : nous renions notre jeunesse, et par une basse envie, nous ne voulons pas convenir que nous fûmes meilleurs que nous ne sommes. Oui, nous fûmes « plus » que nous ne sommes, à l’âge où toutes nos forces encore intactes, croissaient en hâte, désordonnées. Jules Verne fut le poète de l’âge ingrat. Jules Verne appartient évidemment à la classe des auteurs dont on ignore la personne. Il ne faudrait pas croire que son nom, même cette marque, l’une des plus célèbres, ait eu aux yeux de tous l’importance de ses œuvres. Dans une bibliothèque publique où l’on exige des lecteurs qu’ils écrivent à côté du titre du livre le nom de l’auteur, j’ai vu un bulletin ainsi conçu : Titre : Le Toure du Monde en 8 jours. Auteur : Filéas Phogue (sic). Ce lecteur enthousiaste avait vu la pièce et retenu le nom de l’auteur, du vrai : l’imaginaire.

Si l’on ignore l’homme, c’est que cet homme prend peu soin de se faire connaître, soit dans son œuvre, soit ailleurs. L’œuvre est impersonnelle. Rien ne nous renseigne sur l’homme. Celui-ci vit en province et se veut ignoré. On s’étonne que telle vente — de Zola, de Daudet — baisse depuis leur mort. Souvent la postérité retient l’homme et non l’œuvre… Mais si une fois l’on parlait d’un de ceux-là qui laissent ignorer leur personne, une fois, pour savoir… Jules Verne est bien de ceux-là. Sa mort ne fait pas plus à ses jeunes lecteurs que le nom découvert des bâtisseurs de cathédrales n’augmenta la beauté de leur formidable anonymat.

Le Larousse a servi la plupart des journaux. La presse, qui parla de lui, à sa mort, dit peu de choses. Paschal Grousset, qui sous le nom d’André Laurie fut un émule de Jules Verne, et lui aussi, un des promoteurs de l’éducation énergique par son beau roman de Tom Brown, aurait pu dire plus qu’il n’a dit. Avant cela, une brochure de Claretie, un article de Charles Raymond, un autre d’Henri d’Alméras, qui se répètent… Que sait-on ? Donc il naît en 1828, à Nantes, fait son droit, est secrétaire de théâtre, et s’occupe de coulisse à la Bourse. Il débute en 1850 par des vaudevilles. C’est seulement en 1863 que le succès lui trace sa voie avec Cinq Semaines en Ballon.

Jules Claretie, en 1883, le décrit ainsi : parisien jusqu’au bout des ongles par l’esprit et cosmopolite par l’imagination, gai causeur, inventeur inépuisable, boulevardier et solitaire, le premier à l’ouverture du Salon comme à la course en yacht… Claretie dit : le plus aimable des hommes. J’ai son portrait. Il était beau, séduisant, le front gai, la bouche volontaire. Et moi, je vins à lui en 1890. J’étais troupier. Amiens, ma ville de garnison, me sembla la ville élue quand je sus que dans cette ville s’était retiré Jules Verne, et que son fils voulait bien me présenter à lui. J’avais fait un gros livre que j’avais une vraie joie à envoyer au maître. Ce roman pourrait s’appeler des mémoires d’enfant ; je ne puis le renier pour toute la sincérité que j’y avais mise. J’y parlais tout au long de l’éducation des Petits Français. Ils étaient bien privés – plus qu’ils ne sont maintenant – d’air, de prairies, de ballon, de jeux, de joie et de science. On ne leur enseignait guère que la rhétorique. Mais ils avaient Jules Verne et leur âme du moins était pleine d’espace et de science précise.

Je vis venir à moi un grand vieillard amer. Il s’avançait baissant la tête, traînant la jambe, avec des gestes de grand oiseau pris par la patte, et qui agite vainement ses ailes inutiles. Il leva les bras au ciel et me dit : « Malheureux, qu’avez-vous fait ! » Ah ! ce mépris ! l’horreur que je lui inspirais… Ce que j’avais fait ? Mais… de mon mieux ! Et que je n’avais pas ça tout seul, ô maître ! Vous en étiez. Madame Verne adoucissait les aigres paroles. Mais je n’avais pas d’offense. Je me heurtais à un mur, je tâchais de voir derrière… par quelque fente, ou par dessus. Cet homme qui avait su me prendre si puissamment, « devait » trouver quelque part une sympathie pour moi. Etrange sensation d’être jeune et indulgent devant des vieillards !

J’exposai tant bien que mal des tendances ou théories. Je cherchais à mettre des idées dans le roman. Je ne pensais pas étonner, en disant cela, l’ami de Dumas fils, et qui avait lui-même tant répandu d’idées à travers ses belles fables ! Je le trouvais sceptique et hostile. Son honnêteté de bon commerçant se révoltait. On ne trompe pas sur la marchandise. C’était tromper que d’appeler roman des conférences. Et il me regardait avec plus de bonhomie ; on excuse le faiseur par lequel on n’est pas refait, et il me dit avec une ironie pleine de gravité : « Je doute que par ces moyens vous trouviez des lecteurs ! »

Puis, il eut quelque pitié et m’apprit, par charité, en quoi consistait toute la littérature – dont je ne me doutais pas. Voilà, il faut se demander à chaque page ce qu’on va y mettre pour que le lecteur ait envie de tourner la page suivante. Le forcer à chercher la suite. Tout est là ! C’était vrai. Je ne m’étais pas douté de cela. Je m’étais dit : Je n’écris pas pour… mais parce que… Certes, je me serais réjoui qu’on put me lire, mais encore maintenant je n’ai pas le sentiment d’avoir manqué le but, n’ayant pas été lu. J’ai produit, j’ai poussé ! comme un arbre ses fruits. Seront-ils comestibles ? Cela ne le regarde pas. Voilà le Grand Art, pensais-je. L’Art tout puissant, l’Art naturel, irresponsable…

Je rencontrais un homme d’une autre religion. Il me prit pour un sauvage. Dans son pays, on greffe, et l’arbre est cultivé. Jules Verne me fit douter. La recherche du succès, ainsi qu’il l’entendait, n’avait point de bassesse, et prenait la beauté d’un devoir accompli, devoir social au moins, profession utile, exercée loyalement. Ce marchand tenait à honneur de vendre de bons produits, garantis sains et de bon poids, et il ne spéculait ni sur la misère, ni sur le vice. C’était la bonne marque. Il ne se serait pas permis, comme de purs artistes, un faux livre, bourré de rogatons rabibochés. Son volume à trois francs était un plein roman. Œuvre immense ! Et il ne s’est jamais répété.

C’est vrai qu’il était fort, qu’il inspirait confiance. Nous ne doutions pas de lui, et il nous apprenait même devant la mort à ne jamais désespérer. Nous savions que le héros ressusciterait ; on ne pouvait pas croire que Michel Strogoff fut aveugle ! On ne pleurait pas, puisque Jules Verne nous menait et que nous savions bien qu’il saurait nous sauver ! Or, Jules Verne me fit une façon de compliment. Il me regardait avec cette curiosité que l’on a pour les fous… « puisque, tout de même, dit-il, vous avez la force déjà de composer des œuvres si considérables. » Tant de travail, ajoutait son regard étonné, tant d’écriture pour ne jamais être lu. Quel gaspillage !

Je compris qu’à sa religion la mienne semblait ignoble. Ecrire lâchement ! écrire comme on se soulage ! Se vider de ce qu’on pense, bien ou mal, au hasard. C’est œuvre de mollesse qu’il faut laisser aux femmes. Une œuvre doit vouloir, doit tendre vers un but, choisir ce qui importe, non à soi, mais aux autres. Est-ce pour celà, ô Jules Verne, qu’il y a tant de dédains pour ton œuvre ! Tout l’art irresponsable s’insurge contre ton vouloir. Il y a un art libre, un art qui donne l’extase, et c’est une volupté que d’abattre sa volonté ! J’ai cessé de te lire, Jules Verne, pour Lamartine ! Quel but poursuivait-il ? Pas d’autre que d’intéresser. Ses romans avaient le plan de pièces de théâtre. C’était la conception de d’Ennery, Dumas, Sardou. Mais eux ne regardaient pas aux moyens, et Jules Verne y mettait – et ce fut un surcroît de succès – une honnêteté, une austérité puritaine.

Ayant cette conception très haute de son art, convaincu d’avoir dans l’univers, dans le vrai et le possible, un champ suffisant pour des éternités de passion vertueuse, sûr que la recherche d’honnêtes moyens d’intéresser est une digne tâche pour un bon travailleur, – il n’avait pas cherché à relever le roman par des idées, des thèses. Et d’abord aux idées, il préférait les faits. Des idées… par surcroît, comme moyens. Aussi ne daigna-t-il nullement s’intéresser aux opinions diverses que je pouvais avoir défendues dans mon livre, même quand il semblait bien qu’il professait les mêmes. Il fut sévère, et là ne fut pas sans bonté. J’avais offensé la morale et la famille. Certainement telle page de ce roman avait fait de la peine à ma mère. Telle violence peut causer un désordre que l’écrivain doit se reprocher.

Il me signala avec plus d’étonnement que d’horreur des gros mots, des obscénités… J’en étais fier, mais dus convenir que si mon audace bravait en français l’honnêteté et même le palais de justice, je n’aurais pas, quoique troupier, été fichu de dire ces choses-là tout haut. Puis sa voix se fit encore plus sombre, plus austère. Il parla presque bas pour montrer une grosse faute d’orthographe. Je tentais de lui parler d’auteurs contemporains ; il méprisait ou ignorait beaucoup d’entre eux. Il n’admirait vraiment que le médiocre Maupassant. Celui-ci écrivait une bonne langue française. Que de réserves j’aurais eu à faire sur ce point ! Je ne les fis pas. La conversation devint assez difficile.

L’on m’a dit, mais est-ce vrai ? qu’il avait, malgré tout, été assez sensible aux phrases enthousiastes que j’avais écrites sur lui, mais cela, il ne me le dit pas ; je revins souvent le voir sans arriver à l’intéresser davantage. Je m’excuse de raconter des propos si vagues, et ne pense pas du tout donner de Jules Verne une image fidèle. D’autres, qui l’ont mieux connu, auxquels il s’est confié, le feront mieux connaître. J’ai cru seulement intéresser quelques personnes en disant l’impression que ressentit devant le vieillard, un garçon de vingt ans qui l’avait beaucoup lu, et les grosses réflexions que causèrent de petites paroles ; si l’on m’accuse de susceptibilité en ayant cru à un mauvais accueil, je dirai que quel qu’il fut, cet accueil ne m’offensa pas. Je n’ai pas moins aimé Jules Verne, l’ayant connu. Je l’ai trouvé plus grand, et sa rude parole, loin de me décevoir, fit ce que l’homme faisait dans ses romans : il rendait fort.

Bien souvent j’ai songé à cette vie de Jules Verne, de l’ancien coulissier, secrétaire de théâtre… cette vie du prophète d’un monde nouveau. C’est un fait unique et non sans importance qu’un écrivain français ait vécu en province – bien plus ! – ait choisi la province pour y vivre. Il y a des provinciaux nés dans le pays qu’ils chantent, et qui y restent, il y a des Parisiens qui ont une patrie en province pour l’exploiter, et c’est d’un assez bon rapport. Il y a des chaumières, des Côtes-d’Azur, des fermes, des villas, des châteaux. Je ne vois que Jules Verne qui, au milieu de sa vie, ait quitté sans retour Paris, où il demeurait, pour aller se fixer dans une maison, une maison confortable, moderne, une maison sur un boulevard ! dans une ville qui n’était pas la sienne.

Amiens est sur la route d’Angleterre. Il y a la cathédrale et les Puvis de Chavannes du Musée de Picardie, il y a les cent canaux de la Somme, où, au printemps, les barques glissent sous des fleurs comme l’on en voit sur les kaké-monos, et les vastes tourbières, où de tendres brouillards embuent les peupliers… Mais ce n’est pas tout cela qu’y vient chercher Jules Verne, c’est simplement une ville propre, confortable. Il y a sa maison sur un boulevard large, aéré. Des jardins publics bien soignés. Ville industrielle. La misère y est grande, mais n’y sent pas mauvais. Il y a des sociétés, des entreprises. Le conseil municipal a fort à faire.

Une ville allemande de cette importance aurait des jardins comme Amiens, mais, en plus, des libraires, des bibliothèques, des théâtres sérieux. Ici, le théâtre joue le Dimanche, trois pièces à la fois : un drame, un opéra, un vaudeville. Le théâtre ferme pour des saisons entières. Pas de libraires : quelques papetiers. On mange bien. Cette retraite est plus sûre que la campagne. Pas de danger de s’intéresser à des spectacles, à des peintures, à des boutiques, ni même aux champs, aux gens, aux bêtes. La quotidienne vie demande le minimum d’effort. Les fournisseurs sont proches et il y a des trottoirs. Ni tentations de la ville, ni inconfort de la campagne. Seul de ses semblables, Jules Verne comprit ces avantages. Et que servait d’être l’aède du monde pratique, s’il n’avait pas été confortable dans sa vie ? Son après-midi se passe à la Société industrielle. Là il a des revues techniques et des journaux.

Cependant, il s’intéresse à la vie collective. Il est conseiller municipal ; il est assidu, actif. Ses rapports sont nets, substantiels. Il ne dédaigne pas les honneurs, il aide volontiers ses concitoyens. On sait que ce fut pour lui une réelle amertume que l’Académie, qui le couronna tant, ne l’ait pas appelé. Cette institution perdit là non seulement une gloire, mais un membre utile, qui, dévoué aux intérêts de la compagnie, eut pris fort au sérieux la besogne qu’on y fait. Cet esprit positif voulait être occupé. Paris n’offre aux grands hommes que des places de badauds. Ne vous semble-t-il pas, dans cette ville du Nord, voir un demi-Anglais ? Même propreté, même tenue presque puritaine, même recherche de confort et mépris de la beauté. Une vie pratique, voulue, régulière et tendue vers un but.

Pratique ! Jules Verne ne fut jamais scientifique. On se récrie sur ce mot : ses romans sont pleins de science… De science appliquée, jamais de science pure. Il ne cherche pas une vérité, une découverte nue ; même ce touriste ne tient pas à voir, à connaître… Tous ses romans sont des romans de volonté. Un but, même futile ! Un pari, un défi. Le voyage non pour explorer, pour arriver. Il n’y a pas d’amour ni de haine dans ses romans ; ses traîtres sont presque semblables à ses héros. Ce ne sont que gageures, conflits de volonté, et volonté pour la volonté, simplement. On sacrifie au but même toute raison de l’atteindre, puisqu’au besoin on donne sa vie ! Une religion commode qui dispense de penser, et même d’avoir à être ou ne pas être religieux, un patriotisme simple et sûr qui habille avec quelque couleur et correction les conflits d’intérêts égoïstes et brutaux, le monde transformé en un vrai champ de sport…

Voilà les conditions d’une production immense, voulue. Voilà comme cet homme fertile s’est forcé, a produit intensivement, sans s’épuiser, et comment cette imagination formidable s’est contenue, massée, alignée, entraînée, a endigué l’exubérance des forêts vierges dans les perspectives droites et aménagées d’un clair jardin à la française.

Je ne veux pas dire ce que fut son œuvre : qu’on la relise. Elle est bien jeune ! Comme les romans de son temps semblent démodés à côté ! L’intrigue étonne et peut vieillir. Je crois que les coïncidences bizarres, rencontres, hasards, intrigues, sont à excuser comme on excuse les dénouements de Molière. Mais le Chancellor, une part de l’Archipel en feu, par exemple, sont des romans à peine déviés de la vérité. Wells le continue ; chez nous, de l’abbé Bordelon, de Cyrano, de Boistard jusqu’aux « Xipéhuz » de Rosny, aux « Atlantes » de Lomon et Gheusi, à la « Malaisie » de Paul Adam, etc. les champs de l’imaginaire ne courent pas risque d’être en friche… Mais entre tous il est l’auteur réconfortant.

Il est surtout très grand dans une très grande époque, dont meurent un à un les héros, et qu’on commence à voir sous un jour magnifique. C’est le relèvement national, c’est la jeune république du lendemain de la guerre, l’heure où l’école ouvrit enfin quelques fenêtres, et où l’on voulut refaire des énergies. Il s’oppose à toute une littérature désespérée. Le pessimisme règne, dit-on. Lui règne sur la jeunesse. Il fut puissant, passionné, mais il se contint. On dit que son éditeur et ami Hetzel est responsable, par ses conseils, de l’avoir empêché d’éparpiller ses forces, d’écrire d’autres romans. Eut-il tort ? Qui peut le dire ? J’ai bien le souvenir d’une parole assombrie, un regret qu’il eut devant moi de la tâche étroite où il s’était confiné. Sans doute n’écrivant pas seulement pour les très jeunes, il aurait exercé influence plus visible… Mais cette influence même, qu’elle aurait été moindre !

Il eut l’abnégation de n’être qu’un professeur. Je revois cette tête obstinée, ce front de rêveur précis, d’imagination volontaire, cette mâchoire dure et ces yeux doux, illuminés. Voilà ce que j’ai vu, moi, une machine parfaite, spécialisée, rivée. Je n’ai pas connu le parisien, coulissier, causeur, sportif… Un grand vieux, âpre, menant une vie mécanique, ne lâchant pas une minute à l’importun quand c’était l’heure d’aller lire, levé à l’aube, couché tôt, même quand sa femme recevait, ayant décrété l’heure de sa tasse de lait, l’homme qui a de sa vie chassé toute fantaisie.

Il y avait une tour à l’angle de sa maison, une tour, pas en ivoire, en briques et pierres de taille. C’est là qu’il l’avait enfermée, sa fantaisie. Il avait des allures louches et mécaniques d’un geôlier. Il allait à heure fixe lui porter sa ration. Elle devait voler en rond, se heurtant au mur. Et je le revois devant sa tasse de café, dans les quelques minutes où il laissait le dehors pénétrer jusqu’à lui ; ce front dur et têtu était une cage solide, et il fallait qu’elle fût ainsi pour bien tenir la bête sauvage qui s’agitait là-dedans… Mais il la tenait bien, et elle fut condamnée à ne faire que de bons livres.


Qui était Jules Verne, auteur du Tour du monde en 80 jours ?

Qui n’a pas lu, au moins une fois dans sa vie, un livre de Jules Verne. Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers, De la terre à la lune, Voyage au centre de la terre, Cinq semaines en ballon, L’île mystérieuse, Michel Strogoff, nous avons tous notre Jules Verne préféré. Des livres qui font à la fois réfléchir et rêver, peuplés de héros inoubliables, et de mondes tantôt mystérieux, tantôt effrayants. Souvent cantonné à tort au rayon des livres pour enfants, l’oeuvre de Jules Verne s’affranchit en réalité des genres et des catégories.

Où est né Jules Verne ?

Jules Verne est né le 8 février 1828 à Nantes, avant la Révolution Industrielle, avant l’avènement de l’automobile et de l’ampoule électrique. A l’âge de 20 ans, il s’installe à Paris pour y poursuivre sans conviction des études de droit. Son père, avoué, espère que son fils aîné pourra un jour lui succéder. Mais Jules Verne nourrit déjà d’autres ambitions, il rêve de devenir un «poète couronné» ou un «romancier émérite».

Si c’est à Paris que Jules Verne va publier ses premiers romans, et accéder à la reconnaissance, le romancier des voyages extraordinaires répètera inlassablement que dans sa ville natale, ouverte sur l’océan, qu’il puisa l’inspiration. Dans la capitale, Jules Verne essaie d’abord de percer au théâtre mais sans succès. Une rencontre va alors bouleverser sa vie, celle de l’éditeur Pierre-Jules Hetzel.

Quel est le premier succès de Jules Verne ?

Pierre-Jules Hetzel va permettre à Jules Verne de trouver sa voix et accepte en 1863 de publier Cinq semaines en ballon. Cet ouvrage va devenir le premier volume des Voyages extraordinaires, qui compte au total 62 romans et 18 nouvelles. Cinq semaines en ballon est le premier succès de Jules Verne.

Les lecteurs de tous les âges vont se passionner pour les aventures exceptionnelles du Docteur Samuel Fergusson qui, avec ses deux compagnons, va s’envoler vers le continent africain à bord du Victoria, un ballon gonflé à l’hydrogène. Bravoure, dangers, mystères, territoires inconnus, tous les ingrédients sont réunis pour tenir le lecteur en haleine.

Jules Verne : une oeuvre aux multiples facettes

L’oeuvre de Jules Verne échappe à toutes les tentatives de catégorisation. Elle relève à la fois du roman policier, du roman historique, du récit d’aventure, de la science-fiction et du fantastique. Un an après la publication de Cinq semaines en ballon sort Voyage au centre de la terre. Ce chef d’oeuvre raconte les aventures d’Otto Lidenbrock un savant allemand qui, après la découverte d’un manuscrit ancien, va mener une expédition périlleuse vers les entrailles de la terre grâce à un passage dans un volcan islandais, le Sneffels. Géologie, cryptologie, paléontologie, le roman mêle réalités scientifiques et récits imaginaires avec un talent exceptionnel qui se confirmera dans ses oeuvres ultérieures.

En 1872, il devient membre titulaire de l’Académie des sciences, des lettres et des arts d’Amiens. Plutôt que de faire un traditionnel discours de réception, Jules Verne va lire un extrait de son roman à paraître, l’une de ses livres les plus célèbres : Le tour du monde en 80 jours. Ce roman, très documenté et pour lequel Jules Vernes a fait énormément de recherches, met en scène Lles aventures du gentleman anglais Phileas Fogg qui, à la suite d’un pari, va tenter de faire le tour du monde en 80 jours. Le succès est à nouveau retentissant.

Jules Verne et la science

L’oeuvre de Jules Verne, d’une étonnante modernité, est indissociable des progrès scientifiques de son époque. Mais l’écrivain est aussi considéré comme un visionnaire dont l’imagination annonçait déjà au XIXème siècle certaines des grandes découvertes du siècle suivant. Il suffit de voir la manière dont l’écrivain a anticipé nos sociétés mondialisées où des machines nous permettent de parcourir la planète en un temps record !

Parmi les innovations les plus marquantes que l’on retrouve dans les romans de Jules Verne : l’incroyable Nautilus, le sous-marin de Vingt Mille Lieues sous les mers (1869), l’Albatros, plateforme volante de Robur-le-Conquérant (1886) et bien sûr le vaisseau spatial de De la Terre à la Lune (1865).

Si Jules Verne n’était pas un inventeur, il a su avec brio anticiper sur l’avenir de nos sociétés, en extrapolant sur des inventions déjà existantes et grâce à une intuition hors du commun.

Quand est mort Jules Verne ?

A partir de 1872 il s’établit à Amiens. Il y vivra jusqu’à sa mort en 1905 d’une crise de diabète.


Jules Verne, le visionnaire

Des thèmes inspirants…

Fervent lecteur, Jules Verne était avide d’ouvrages et revues de vulgarisation scientifique. En dépit de l’absence d’études dans ce domaine, ses diverses passions, particulièrement pour l’astronomie et les progrès techniques, faisaient de lui un homme très cultivé et au courant des avancées de son temps. Et ces intérêts ne sont pas passé inaperçus, puisqu’ils constituent des thèmes récurrents dans son œuvre. Allié à l’imagination débordante de l’auteur, ces connaissances ont su se muer en une myriade d’inventions surprenantes qui continuent de faire rêver les lecteurs d’aujourd’hui.

Jules Verne était aussi fasciné par les voyages, qui constituent le cœur de son œuvre. Mais si ses romans et nouvelles parlent plutôt de voyages géographiques, l’auteur, lui, voyait bien plus loin, narguant allègrement des frontières du possible… Car l’esprit créatif de Jules Verne se déplaçait aussi dans le temps, à l’affût de ce qui n’existait pas encore. Et les machines, bolides et autres appareils singuliers surgissant au fil des pages ne sont que les cousins (si ce n’est les jumeaux !) de notre technologie moderne qu’il avait entrevue.

… Pour un esprit avant-gardiste !

A l’heure de la Première Révolution industrielle, l’auteur avait particulièrement conscience des profonds bouleversements que subirait la société. Jules Verne a en effet prédit l’invention d’une longue liste d’objets bien avant l’heure. Parmi ses prévisions, on retrouve entre autres l’hélicoptère, les conférences à distance, la matière plastique, les exploitations off-shore, le chauffage tellurique et bien sûr tout ce qui est a trait à la conquête spatiale

L’ingéniosité de l’écrivain le projette parfois très loin dans le temps : dans certains cas, des dizaines d’années s’écoulent entre l’une de ses prédictions et sa réalisation concrète ! En 1869, dans le célèbre roman Vingt Mille lieues sous les mers, les personnages utilisent le scaphandre autonome et voyagent en sous-marin. Ces objets seront respectivement conçus en 1880 et 1955. Et que dire de l’idée d’envoyer un homme dans l’espace ou de lui faire poser un pied sur la Lune : Verne avait décrit ces possibilités un siècle plus tôt, dans De la Terre à la Lune (1865) et Autour de la Lune (1865) ! Il n’y a guère que pour Le Tour du monde en quatre-vingt jours, publié en 1872, qu’il a été devancé, puisque George Francis Train avait déjà réussi cette prouesse deux ans plus tôt et a inspiré par la même occasion notre visionnaire.

De longues années après la mort de Verne, son œuvre participa dans les années 1980 au développement du mouvement littéraire et culturel Steampunk. L’univers de ce mouvement rétro-futuriste est lié à la première révolution industrielle, où l’on s’appuyait sur les technologies utilisant la vapeur (steam) ainsi que les matériaux traditionnels (le cuivre, le bois…). On repère facilement les adhérents au Steampunk dans les événements culturels, avec leurs costumes en cuir ornés d’engrenages et autres gadgets métalliques ! Un retour aux sources traduisant un regret du temps des spéculations enchanteresses de l’écrivain… et confirmant le génie de sa plume.



Jules Verne : le grand maître de l’innovation

“Il n’écrit pas précisément des romans, il met la science en drame, il se lance dans les imaginations fantaisistes en s’appuyant sur les données scientifiques nouvelles”. C’est en ces termes qu’Emile Zola décrivait la prose de Jules Verne dans le supplément littéraire du Figaro du dimanche 22 septembre 1878. Bien qu’il soit souvent identifié à la science-fiction, le propos de Zola est plus exact pour décrire le nouveau genre littéraire que fait apparaître Jules Verne, le roman scientifique.

Né en 1828 et mort en 1905, il connaît une période de croissance jusqu’alors inconnue durant laquelle deux révolutions industrielles ont lieu grâce à des découvertes historiques dans toutes les branches scientifiques. Jules Verne est le témoin d’une période de transition absolument extraordinaire pendant laquelle se développent les bases du monde occidental industrialisé. 

L’objectif du cycle romanesque de Jules Verne Les voyages extraordinaires est de raconter l’histoire de l’univers, d’entrainer les lecteurs dans toutes les profondeurs de la mer, de la terre, sur tous les continents, dans les aires et dans l’espace, jusqu’aux limites des mondes connus et inconnus. – Olivier Sauzereau

Fasciné par la science, avide de connaissances, il va s’atteler à écrire ce monde sous la forme de récits d’aventures fantastiques mettant en scène tant les nouvelles inventions de son époque que certains de ses personnages. Le tout prend la forme des Voyages extraordinaires, composés de 62 romans et de 18 nouvelles publiés par son éditeur Pierre-Jules Hetzel, qui laissent entrevoir la folie créatrice de la Belle Époque, tout en révélant ses excès.

Quand on lit Jules Verne, on se rend compte qu’il a un regard assez critique sur une mauvaise utilisation de la science et de la technique. Toutes les machines extraordinaires qu’il imagine dans son œuvre sont immanquablement détruites à la fin. – Olivier Sauzereau

Science-fiction: Jules Verne, père fondateur

C’est la folie prométhéenne, faustienne que condamne Jules Verne. Tous les personnages verniens sont en passe de devenir des Promothée ou des Faust, c’est-à-dire ravir le feu divin aux Dieux – c’est le cas de l’électricité et du tonnerre – mais également maîtriser totalement le savoir et la puissance du temps. François Angelier

L’articulation du temps et de l’espace reste la grande question de Verne, c’est-à-dire la rencontre du temps au travers de l’espace souterrain. Plus les héros de Verne progresseront dans leur quête souterraine, plus ils remonteront le temps : il y a un double mouvement. François Angelier

Verne a fasciné tout un tas d’auteurs qui voyaient en Verne un styliste extraordinaire. Le texte de Verne est un texte extraordinairement travaillé, poncé, assemblé, structuré, réécrit maintes fois, totalement dégraissé. C’est un plaisir extraordinaire de le lire. François Angelier

Jules Verne, l’arpenteur de la Terre

L’écriture de Jules Verne est en apparence neutre, parfaitement descriptive, d’une grande justesse, sans tenir compte d’une moindre psychologie et arrivant à intégrer une quantité d’informations scientifiques, géographiques… C’est tout à fait caractéristique de son style. […] C’est une écriture plane. […] Il y a des accumulations, des énumérations, un sens du qualificatif mais je persiste à penser que cette espèce de neutralité est très productive d’imaginaire. C’est parce qu’il n’en remet pas trop dans le style, que l’imaginaire, notre imaginaire, fonctionne à plein. Jean-Luc Steinmetz


Voyage au centre de la Terre

Jules Verne, Voyage au centre de la Terre : résumé

L’histoire commence dans le quartier de Hambourg, en Allemagne.

Un jour, Otto Lidenbrock, professeur, géologue et minéralogiste achète un manuscrit original de SnoriSturluson. Ce livre fait partie d’une saga islandaise du XIIe siècle : Heimskringla. Dans ce vieux manuscrit, le professeur fit une découverte qui marquera le début d’une grande aventure. En effet, le 24 mai 1863, il trouve accidentellement un vieux parchemin écrit en caractères runiques. Grâce à l’aide de son neveu Axel, après de nombreux efforts, Lindenbrock finit par percer les secrets du cryptogramme. Il découvre que le parchemin était, en fait, un message d’un dénommé Arne Saknussem. Ce dernier était un alchimiste d’origine Islandais ayant vécu au XVIe siècle. Dans le vieux manuscrit, Arne Saknussem affirme avoir trouvé un passage jusque dans le centre de la terre à partir du Volcan Sneeffels. Lindenbrock s’enflamme au sujet du contenu de son manuscrit. Dans le livre, Lidenbrock est décrit comme un homme enthousiaste et impétueux. Il n’a aucune hésitation à proposer à Axel de l’accompagner pour un voyage jusqu’au centre de la terre. Au début, cette décision très soudaine de partir du jour au lendemain ne séduit pas le jeune Axel.

Voyage au centre de la Terre est raconté par Axel, le neveu du professeur Lindenbrock. Le jeune Axel y narre, comment il a décidé de suivre son oncle dans une expédition en Islande. Les deux protagonistes, le professeur et son neveu étaient en désaccord sur le fait de partir en voyage vers l’inconnu. Le premier, plus décidé, après sa lecture du manuscrit et la possible vérification des théories d’Humphry Davy. Ce dernier a proposé l’hypothèse selon laquelle la température vers le noyau terrestre serait moins élevée. Le second protagoniste est par contre un partisan de Siméon Denis Poisson. Ce dernier est défenseur de la théorie de la chaleur centrale. L’intervention de Graüben a pesé sur la décision d’Axel. Graüben, une Virlandaise, est la pupille du professeur Lidenbrock et le grand amour d’Axel. Les deux se sont fiancés à l’insu du professeur. Graüben encourage son amoureux à entreprendre le voyage avec l’espoir qu’ils se marieront à son retour. Pour cette aventure périlleuse, Axel a donc dû abandonner celle qu’il aime.

Deux jours sont passés après le déchiffrement du message du parchemin. Le professeur s’est occupé de tous les préparatifs. En deux jours, il a pu se procurer de matériels adéquats, des technologies de pointe de l’époque. À sa disposition, il a des appareils de Ruhmkorff. Il s’agit d’un dispositif pouvant fournir de l’éclairage. Aussi, il s’est équipé d’un puissant explosif : le fulmicoton. En quête de découvertes, Lidenbrock et Axel partent à destination du cratère du Sneeffels ou Snæfellsjökull. Les deux hommes se pressent, car selon les écrits de Saknussem, il fallait respecter certaines conditions pour se repérer. Un certain temps était requis pour arriver en Islande et plus précisément jusqu’au volcan. Pourtant, il était primordial d’y arriver à la fin du mois de juin pour identifier l’emplacement d’un point d’entrée. À cette date précise, l’entrée se situera dans la zone où se fonderait l’ombre d’un pic rocheux.

Sur le parcours qui les mène en Islande, Lidenbrock et Axel vont passer par plusieurs villes : Altona, Kiel, Korsør, Copenhague… Arrivé à Copenhague, le professeur sollicite l’aide de M. Thompson, le directeur du musée des Antiquités du Nord de Copenhague. Celui-ci lui donne des informations utiles pour son voyage pour Islande, ainsi que pour son séjour une fois sur place. Lidenbrock anticipe le fait que son neveu et lui devront descendre des gouffres une fois dans le cratère. Ainsi, il oblige Axel à suivre des leçons d’abîme en haut d’un clocher. Le but étant de lui permettre de surmonter son vertige. Avant d’arriver jusqu’au sud-ouest de l’Islande, les aventuriers passent par Elseneur et Skagerrak. Ils longent la Norvège avant de traverser la mer du Nord. Enfin, ils passent au large des îles Féroé et se rapprochent de leur destination. Au port de Reykjavik, les deux hommes sont hébergés par M. Fridriksson, un professeur de sciences naturelles. Cet homme leur fait part de tout ce qu’il sait sur Saknussem. Lidenbrock et Axel sont toutefois restés discrets sur l’objectif réel de leur voyage.

Suivant les sages conseils de M. Fridriksson, ils recrutent Hans Bjelke, un chasseur islandais qui peut leur servir de guide. Ensemble, ils recherchent le chemin qu’aurait suivi Arne Saknussem pour aboutir au centre de la terre. Sur la route qui mène à Sneffels, les aventuriers passent par Gardär puis Stapi. À cette étape du parcours, ils vivent quelques mésaventures engendrées par l’impatience du professeur, mais aussi par l’un de leurs hôtes. Le volcan éteint du Sneffels est constitué de 3 cheminées. Selon les indications du vieux parchemin, l’entrée du passage vers le centre de la Terre se trouve au niveau de l’une de ces cheminées. À proximité des cratères, Lidenbrock trouve une inscription runique au nom de l’alchimiste Saknussem. Ce qui à ses yeux justifie la véracité de leur cryptogramme. Ils attendent alors avec un grand espoir un moment précis pour repérer l’entrée du passage. C’est pourquoi ils devaient arriver avant « les calendes de juillet ».

Le 28 juin, les conditions citées par le parchemin sont respectées. L’ombre d’un pic rocheux se projette sur le cratère central. Les 3 aventuriers peuvent commencer la descente. Munis de cordes, ils descendent la cheminée principale. En vue de prendre des notes sur le chemin parcouru avec le maximum de précision, le professeur Lidenbrock dispose d’un journal scientifique. Lidenbrock, sans le savoir, dirige son équipe vers la perte en choisissant la mauvaise direction à partir d’un croisement entre deux galeries. Cette erreur a presque coûté la vie des 3 hommes. En effet, leur réserve d’eau s’était épuisée rapidement. De ce fait, le professeur et ses deux compagnons reviennent sur leurs pas en étant assoiffés. De retour au croisement, ils se fient à Hans qui leur mène vers une nappe souterraine d’eau ferrugineuse. Sur le trajet, Axel se rend compte que Lidenbrock avait bien raison : la théorie de la chaleur centrale n’était pas exacte. En effet, l’augmentation de la chaleur n’était nullement considérable.

Ils continuent à s’engouffrer jusque dans les entrailles de la Terre. Axel se retrouve en danger lorsqu’il se retrouve malgré lui séparé des autres. Les 3 compagnons réussissent à se regrouper, mais Axel fait une mauvaise chute. Heureusement, Lidenbrock et Hans parviennent à le guérir. L’aventure continue. À l’intérieur du cratère, ils font d’innombrables et incroyables découvertes. Parmi ces découvertes : une mer intérieure, une forêt de champignons géants, un combat d’animaux préhistoriques. Nos explorateurs baptisent certaines en leur nom : la mer Lidenbrock, l’îlot Axel, le fleuve Hans Bach. Le professeur et son équipe naviguent durant une dizaine de jours sur la mer Lidenbrock, surmontant les dangers. Sur la côte, ils trouvent un poignard rouillé portant les initiales d’Arne Saknussem. Ce qui les procurent un certain courage, car preuve qu’ils sont sur la bonne voie. Pourtant, un nouvel obstacle fait son apparition : un passage bouché par une éruption récente. Le professeur utilise alors son fulmicoton, mais l’explosion provoque un raz-de-marée. Suite à cela, l’équipe perd l’ensemble des provisions et presque tous les équipements.

Loin dans les fins fonds de la terre, le professeur et ses compagnons meurent de faim. L’équipe d’intrépides aventuriers perd espoir de retour en surface et donc de survie. Cependant, soudainement, une éruption volcanique les emporte jusqu’à la surface à un lieu qu’ils n’auraient jamais imaginé. En effet, ils ressortent en Italie, au niveau du volcan Stromboli. Au final, le professeur Lidenbrock n’est pas parvenu à aller jusqu’au centre de la Terre. Toutefois, il devient célèbre. De son côté, Axel se marie avec Graüben. Hans quant à lui retourne en Islande.



Jules Verne, extra-ordinaire !

Ses voyages sortent en effet de l’ordinaire. Dépaysant, déroutant, l’auteur emmène ses lecteurs explorer les limites d’un monde tel qu’on ne le connaissait pas jusqu’à alors : les Voyages extraordinaires sont d’ailleurs sous-titrés «Voyages dans les mondes connus et inconnus«. Ses romans articulent le réel et l’imaginaire par le «merveilleux  géographique«. Ils révèlent aussi le goût prononcé de l’auteur pour les sciences et les dernières découvertes. Jules Verne se tient en effet au courant de toutes les nouveautés techniques; il s’intéresse aux machines, qui l’inspirent. La connaissance est au coeur de ses fictions, et la science prétexte au rêve et à la fantaisie. 

Voyage au centre de la Terre, c’est le voyage impossible. On part avec Jules Verne explorer l’intérieur du globe… Pour l’écrire, l’auteur s’est appuyé sur deux disciplines encore jeunes à l’époque, la paléontologie et la géologie, plus spécifiquement : la minéralogie. 

Dans le roman, l’expédition est conduite par le Professeur Otto Lidenbrock, auteur d’un imaginaire Traité de cristallographie transcendante. Son neveu Axel l’accompagne dans ses aventures vers le centre de la Terre. C’est lui le narrateur. Ecrit à la première personne, le roman nous initie comme ce jeune homme l’est par son oncle. D’autant que Axel doute souvent au cours de ce voyage impossible. Ils n’en restent pas moins convaincus, l’un comme l’autre, que tous les phénomènes ont une explication naturelle. Un troisième personnage avance avec eux à partir de Reykjavik : Hans, le chasseur, personnage mutique, mais serviteur fidèle et sensible.

Un départ décidé à la hâte après que le professeur a découvert dans un ouvrage de sa  bibliothèque un message crypté laissé par un savant alchimiste de la Renaissance. Le voyage peut commencer…. 

Texte entier

Le 24 mai 1863, un dimanche, mon oncle, le professeur Lidenbrock, revint récipitamment vers sa petite maison située au numéro 19 de Königstrasse, l’une des plus anciennes rues du vieux quartier de Hambourg.
La bonne Marthe dut se croire fort en retard, car le dîner commençait à peine à chanter sur le fourneau de la cuisine.
« Bon, me dis-je, s’il a faim, mon oncle, qui est le plus impatient des hommes, va pousser des cris de détresse.
– Déjà M. Lidenbrock ! s’écria la bonne Marthe stupéfaite, en entrebâillant la porte de la
salle à manger.
– Oui, Marthe ; mais le dîner a le droit de ne point être cuit, car il n’est pas deux heures. La demie vient à peine de sonner à Saint-Michel.
– Alors pourquoi M. Lidenbrock rentre-t-il ?
– Il nous le dira vraisemblablement.
– Le voilà ! je me sauve, monsieur Axel, vous lui ferez entendre raison. »
Et la bonne Marthe regagna son laboratoire culinaire.
Je restai seul. Mais de faire entendre raison au plus irascible des professeurs, c’est ce que mon caractère un peu indécis ne me permettait pas. Aussi je me préparais à regagner prudemment ma petite chambre du haut, quand la porte de la rue
cria sur ses gonds ; de grands pieds firent craquer l’escalier de bois, et le maître de la maison, traversant la salle à manger, se précipita aussitôt dans son cabinet de travail.




Journey to the Center of the Earth – Henry Levin (1959)

Voyage au centre de la terre – Dessin animé

Voyage au centre de la Terre – Les voyages extraordinaires de Jules Verne Dessin animé

Journey to the Center of the Earth – William Dear (1993)

Journey to the center of the Earth – George Miller (1999)

Journey to the Center of the Earth – Eric Brevig (2008)

De la Terre à la Lune

De la Terre à la Lune trajet direct en 97 heures 20 minutes

Pendant la guerre fédérale des États-Unis, le Gun Club, composé d’Américains spécialistes de balistique, s’établit à Baltimore. Mais, le jour où la paix est signée, les membres du club se retrouvent désœuvrés de ne plus pouvoir pratiquer leur activité. C’est alors que Barbicane, le président du club, fait une annonce. Il a l’idée de mettre leurs capacités à profit dans le cadre d’une grande expérience digne du XIXe siècle : envoyer un boulet de canon sur la Lune. Ce projet est accueilli avec grand enthousiasme à travers toute l’Amérique qui s’intéresse soudainement au satellite de la Terre.

Alors, comment mettre ce projet à exécution ? Pour la partie astronomique, Barbicane s’adresse à l’observatoire de Cambridge. Il apprend ainsi que la Lune se présentera dans les conditions favorables pour son entreprise le 4 décembre de l’année suivante. Le projectile devra donc être lancé le 1er décembre afin de rencontrer le satellite de la Terre 4 jours plus tard. Sinon, il faudra attendre dix-huit ans et onze jours de plus pour mener à bien le projet. Pour le point de vue mécanique de l’entreprise, un comité d’exécution est nommé au sein du Gun Club afin de trouver les solutions adéquates au sujet du boulet, du canon et des poudres.

Si tout le pays est derrière Barbicane, un de ses ennemis de longue date s’oppose toutefois au projet. Il s’agit du capitaine Nicholl, originaire de Philadelphie. Si Barbicane est un grand fondeur de projectiles, Nicholl est quant à lui un grand forgeur de plaques. Lors de la guerre, ces deux savants s’opposaient donc continuellement dans leurs domaines respectifs. Nicholl décide de lancer publiquement à son adversaire une série de paris concernant le projet lunaire dans l’Enquirer de Richmond.

L’expérience du Gun Club doit se tenir à Tampa-Town en Floride. Le monde entier participe financièrement à l’exécution du projet. Après avoir récolté plusieurs millions de dollars, Barbicane signe un traité avec l’usine de Goldspring pour le transport à Tampa-Town du matériel nécessaire à la fonte du canon. Une fois sur place, Barbicane choisit la plaine de Stone’s Hill pour réaliser l’expérience. Afin de pouvoir observer le projectile sur la Lune, l’observatoire de Cambridge construit un nouveau télescope sur les montagnes Rocheuses.

Le projet avançant, les foules se déplacent pour voir le fameux canon. Deux mois avant la date fatidique, Barbicane reçoit un télégramme d’un aventurier français appelé Michel Ardan où il est écrit « Remplacez obus sphérique par projectile cylindro-conique. Partirai dedans. Arriverai par stamer ». L’Européen arrive à Tampa-Town le 20 octobre. Si, au début, tous trouvent sa proposition fantaisiste, le public ne tarde pas à s’enthousiasmer pour le projet du Français. Lors de la conférence publique de Michel Ardan, un seul homme paraît sceptique : le capitaine Nicholl.


Jules Verne – De le Terre à la Lune [critique]

De la Terre à la Lune est le premier roman où Jules Verne s’intéresse à l’astrologie – ce ne sera pas le dernier. Fidèle à sa réputation de vulgarisateur, il compulse ses connaissances scientifiques et rédige un ouvrage qui, en plus de prendre le lecteur dans son tourbillon aventurier, lui permet de s’instruire tout en s’évadant. 

Les artilleurs du Gun-Club se morfondent depuis la fin de la guerre fédérale des États-Unis ; désœuvrés, ils ne savent plus quoi faire de leurs journées, eux qui ne jurent que par l’artillerie et la balistique. Un beau jour, leur président, Impey Barbicane, leur fait une proposition qui, une fois le premier moment de stupeur passé, est accueillie avec un enthousiasme délirant : ils vont se mettre en communication avec la Lune en lui envoyant un énorme projectile qui sera lancé par un canon gigantesque ! Tandis que tous s’affairent à mettre en œuvre ce projet inouï, un Parisien, Michel Ardan, envoie un télégramme à Barbicane lui disant qu’il souhaite prendre place dans le projectile lors de son lancement.


Si la vulgarisation technique et scientifique est une constante dans l’œuvre de Jules Verne, De la Terre à la Lune est sans conteste l’un des romans de l’auteur où cette vulgarisation est aussi prégnante. Son sujet l’amène à instruire brillamment le lecteur dans les domaines complexes que sont l’astrologie, l’artillerie et la balistique. Aussi il consacre pas moins de trois chapitres à faire l’état des connaissances de son époque en matière d’optique (pour l’observation de la Lune), de sélénographie et de phases lunaires. Ces bases astronomiques posées, il peut alors passer sur les sujets de l’artillerie et de la balistique afin d’expliquer comment il serait possible d’envoyer un projectile sur la Lune depuis la Terre. « Serait » car il est évident que certaines choses avancées par Jules Verne restent du domaine de l’extrapolation – d’ailleurs l’auteur avance avec prudence et n’affirme jamais rien lorsqu’il se trouve être dans ce schéma –, mais que celles-ci s’appuient néanmoins toujours sur des bases avérées.

Néanmoins, Jules Verne a été visionnaire sur certaines choses. Par exemple, aujourd’hui encore, les fusées sont lancées lorsque la Lune se trouve à son périgée, afin de raccourcir la distance à parcourir. À noter également que si l’aluminium était nouveau et méconnu à l’époque de la rédaction de De la Terre à la Lune, Jules Verne avait bien anticipé que ce matériau deviendrait très prisé pour les applications requérant de la légèreté – comme l’aéronautique.


De la Terre à la Lune est donc clairement un roman d’anticipation ; le récit, qui tourne autour de la planification d’une expédition à destination de la Lune, est une préfiguration des missions spatiales qui débuteront près d’un siècle après la publication du volume. Le satellite naturel de la Terre fascinait déjà les hommes de science du XIXe siècle et Jules Verne, en bon érudit qu’il est, s’empare donc du sujet et imagine comment il serait possible de rejoindre l’astre nocturne en se basant sur ses connaissances scientifiques.

Et cet alliage de vulgarisation et d’anticipation donne vie à un roman fort agréable à lire, et ce malgré les invraisemblances (présence d’eau sur la Lune, atmosphère sur place, etc…) que le lecteur de 2018, du fait de l’avancée des connaissances, ne manquera pas de relever.


Texte entier

Le Gun-Club
Pendant la guerre fédérale des États-Unis, un nouveau club très influent s’établit dans la ville de Baltimore, en plein Maryland. On sait avec quelle énergie l’instinct militaire se développa chez ce peuple d’armateurs, de marchands et de mécaniciens. De simples négociants enjambèrent leur comptoir pour s’improviser capitaines, colonels, généraux, sans avoir passé par les écoles d’application de West-Point ; ils égalèrent bientôt dans « l’art de la guerre » leurs collègues du vieux continent, et comme eux ils remportèrent des victoires à force de prodiguer les boulets, les millions et les hommes.
Mais en quoi les Américains surpassèrent singulièrement les Européens, ce fut dans la
science de la balistique. Non que leurs armes atteignissent un plus haut degré de perfection, mais elles offrirent des dimensions inusitées et eurent par conséquent des portées inconnues jusqu’alors. En fait de tirs rasants, plongeants ou de plein fouet, de feux d’écharpe, d’enfilade ou de revers, les Anglais, les Français, les Prussiens, n’ont plus rien à apprendre ; mais leurs canons, leurs obusiers, leurs mortiers ne sont que des
pistolets de poche auprès des formidables engins de l’artillerie américaine.




Le Voyage dans la lune – Georges Méliès (1902)

 From The Earth To The Moon – Byron Haskin (1958)

Jules Verne’s Rocket to the Moon – Don Sharp (1967)