Angelina in "Salt"

Angelina Jolie is larger than life.

Now, in Salt, she’s running from the CIA and dodging bullets, freefalling onto passing semi trucks, blowing out buildings, and smuggling into the White House.

These were all reasons why I wasn’t particularly interested in seeing this film at first, upon seeing the trailers. However, I knew I was going to see it simply for Angelina, the modern screen siren who also happens to possess considerable dramatic talent. And those eyes say so much alone.

I continue to be reminded that the best film-going experience comes from knowing very little about a film beforehand and going in blind, with little to no expectation, and simply experiencing the film as it unfolds, like we do in life. And like life, if we proceed with preconceived notions and lofty expectation, we only succeed in disappointing ourselves.

And let me say, I loved Salt.

I want to go back and see it again. Believe me, this shocks me more than anyone.

But let me explain. From the opening the film moves at a freight train pacing, as Evelyn Salt is shown being tortured in North Korea two years prior to the setting of the film. She gets out and returns to the states, to the CIA tracking spies. It’s her anniversary and she’s about to leave when they’re alerted to a Russian defector being held in the building for questioning. She interrogates him and he swiftly explains that for years the Russians have been raising children to be Russian spies, infiltrating America until the time comes and they take down the country.

And Evelyn Salt is one of these spies.

Insisting she’s innocent, Salt manages to get out of the building and is on the run for the rest of the film. While elements of this plot sound trite or clichéd, the handling of it by the screenwriter, director, editor, and actors infuses fresh life and energy into the whole thing. The images of graceful, thin Angelina racing through the city and pirouetting, jumping, flinging, and landing give the action genre an injection of ballet, of artful movement and choreography that is sorely missing from any similar film with a male lead.

A sequence in a church during the funeral of the American Vice President is positively operatic and chilling, a scene that the film pivots on in several important ways, and the viewers are given their own first moment of doubt as to the true identity of Evelyn Salt.

There’s also a shot that is used prominently in the promotions, of Angelina in her newly-dyed black hair moving through the crowd of policemen eyeing the Russian President, that looks strikingly like the shot of Satan moving through the Sanhedrin as Jesus gets flogged in “Passion of the Christ.”

While the very concept of the film is overreaching, one can almost see a woman of Angelina’s particular build pulling these stunts off in real life, due to her light weight, grace, fitness, and reflexes. On the other hand, a bulky, heavy, muscle-bound male performing such feats is less convincing (and more boring, if it had been done the way it was originally intended, with Tom Cruise in the lead role.)

It’s hard to pull off surprising twists and turns in an action film, and so much relies on the actors’ portrayal and treatment of their character as they move from scene to progressive scene. Without revealing anything, I will say that there were moments of genuine surprise and shock as the story sped toward its conclusion…

Actresses like Angelina Jolie strike me by their varied choices in roles; she’s drawn to serious, deep, thought-provoking roles like A Mighty Heart, Alexander, and Gia. Then she has to get the action and inner athlete out of her system with films like Tomb Raider, Wanted, and Salt. She’s multi-faceted, drawn to portraying the human condition in all its many faces and manifestations.

And she just likes to have a fun time, too.

Fortunately the audience has a fun time as well in Salt, as well as a genuinely thrilling experience that benefits from a story well told.


“Sex and the City 2” Decadent Fun but a Little Soulless

The girls are back for some glamorous but soulless fun in "Sex and the City 2"

Any filmmaker schooled in the lessons of economic storytelling, succinct editing, and trimming of the fat, would do well to stay away from the new Sex and the City film. Those who like to have a fun, glamorous time, and/or love “Sex and the City”, will enjoy it, even while noticing its flaws.

When the first Sex and the City film opened, it was an event. Not only was it the first time Carrie and the Girls would be looming larger than ever on the silver screen, but it had been a significant passage of time between the end of the series and the film. So much could have and did happen for all the women, that we were anxious and excited to see where they were, and who they had become.

The first film had weight and pathos among all the fashion, excess, and pretty people. It had a reason for existing, besides simply allowing its fans to spend more time with the girls (which isn’t an illegitimate reason in itself.)

Now, a mere two years later, Sex and the City 2 is released, looking – based on the promotional material – more glossy, airbrushed, and exotic than ever. Glittering desert dunes and pristine Arabian pillars flank the stars as they strut across the sand in their attire, drinking pretty drinks and dripping with diamonds and luxury.

I was worried the girls themselves and their stories would be drowned out among such excess.

And to some extent, they were.

Yes, it is pure “Sex and the City fun, which is what I turn to it for. Yes, the girls are still fabulous and funny and nuanced and flawed and searching and wise and confused. That is what we love about them.

But did this really need to be made? What new revelations or character arcs emerge from their excursions to Abu Dhabi? Truthfully, not many.

The central conflict is Carrie’s attempt to deal with transitioning into a new phase of her marriage with Big. He wants to sit on the couch and watch his HDTV, and she wants to go out on the town. Okay, a valid conflict and issue, but enough to fill a two-and-a-half-hour glitzy epic? Not sure.

Samantha is trying to trick her body into thinking it’s younger with a bevy of hormone pills and medication, and when they are confiscated in Abu Dhabi, she clamors for an alternative, eating platefuls of yams and hummus in an attempt to soak up whatever tiny amounts of estrogen they contain.

Charlotte is struggling with two difficult, time-consuming children and a busty Irish nanny. Miranda gathers the strength to quit working for a tyrannical boss. Otherwise, these two just come along for the ride behind Carrie and Samantha. Not much gets revealed or worked out or explored for them.

The film could have been cut down to an hour and a half, but instead writer/director Michael Patrick King loads it with long, meandering scenes in the exotic location, superstar cameos –  including a hilarious moment of Liza Minelli doing a rendition of “Single Ladies,” (but again, what’s the point? Are we supposed to buy that she would put in an appearance at Stanford and Anthony’s wedding?) – and a long club scene where the girls perform “I Am Woman,” with Samantha looking like Shredder from “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” in her dress.

Again, all of this is big, glossy fun and I enjoyed it. But in the middle of my enjoyment, I couldn’t help but wonder: Why is this story being told? In my opinion, they should have set the story a significant time in the future, where their children were older, they were in much different places personally and professionally, and a real story could have been told. A purpose for making another lavish film with these great characters would have made it a much more significant experience.

But maybe I’m being too serious for a Sex and the City film. Except, I don’t think I am. I apply all of these critiques to the previous installments, and they all pass the test with flying colors. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for this new film. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

Amid all the dripping glam and gloss and exotic adventures, the heart and soul of what we have loved in “Sex and the City” got lost. And it’s a shame. But at the same time, it is shameful fun.

Clash of the Sources

Polly Walker as Cassiopeia sets the story in motion by insulting Hades (Ralph Fiennes) in "Clash of the Titans" 2010

The Greeks turned to their myths not for religious and spiritual sustenance, but for science. The modern mind looks in wonder and amusement at the stories of Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Athena, and Poseidon and thinks the antiquated mind something primitive and verging on silly.

That is, no doubt, how the future minds will look back at our religious institutions as well.

For the average Greek of antiquity, their everyday lives were not determined as fully by the will of the gods the way they are believed to be by Judeo-Christians of 2010. Temples were erected, sacrifices made and libations poured, but then the Greek went on with their day. You consulted oracles for prophecies, and turned to the myths to explain the sunset, the spring and winter, and the whistling wind across the fields.

The current creative function of Greek mythology has been given a new makeover in the remake of The Clash of the Titans, based – loosely – on the story of Perseus, half-man and half-god warrior, and his adventure to rescue Andromeda, slaying the Gorgon Medusa in the process while managing to not turn to stone himself.

Inserted in the story is a Nordic monster, the Kraken, who Perseus must turn to stone with the Gorgon’s head. This is not extant in the Greeks, but they had plenty of their own mythic monsters and beasts to stand in the way of their heroes as well, so we won’t quibble.

There is still a campy aesthetic to the Hollywood portrayal of the gods high on Mount Olympus, as there was in the 1981 original. Zeus glitters like he’s in an Abba video, and all the gods are airbrushed like they’re in a soap opera, as they stand and gaze down on their world and the happenings therein, deciding which move to make on the chessboard next.

Ralph Fiennes is probably the best actor here because of his fun relish in the evil role of Hades, Zeus’s brother confined to rule the underworld and be neglected of man’s love and reverence. There is a great scene early on when Andromeda’s arrogant mother, Cassiopeia (played by actress Polly Walker, who I love as Atia in HBO’s “Rome”), brazenly proclaims they, the humans, no longer have need of the gods at all and are more beautiful anyhow. Hades swoops down to wrathfully show her exactly how dependant on the gods they truly are. This scene really sets the whole thing in motion.

Liam Neeson appears in brief snippets as an angry Zeus, but one never gets the true feeling of might and power that comes along with the mere mention of the King of the Gods, wielder of the lightning bolt.

And don’t even get me started on the complete – complete – omission of Athena, the most active of the gods next to Zeus and Hades. Goddess of warcraft and wisdom, she gives Perseus the shield to slay Medusa with, afterward placing the Gorgon’s head on her own shield. Her presence is usurped mysteriously by Io, who in reality – or at least the original myths – was Perseus’s great grandmother many times over and one-time wife to Zeus.

Then there’s a strange episode with huge tarantulas of some kind that made me think more of the original “Star Trek” series than anything out of antiquity. At least the recent epics Troy and Alexander had authentic Greek pedigree and feel.

To be a little fair to the filmmakers, Greek history and mythology is so full of names, marriages, births, families, and stories that it is incredibly difficult, nigh impossible, to render each and every storyline accurately.

But they certainly could have tried harder.

Nothing can replace the specific quality of Medusa’s portrayal in the original film. Rendered in claymation, which lent her an eerie, unnatural appearance, the Gorgon slithered through her candle-lit palace freezing men to stone and chilled me as a child. In this new one, she is all computerized and flying like a leopard over shattered columns and broken men. I would have liked to have seen at least her face be an actual actress.

Ultimately, one does not leave the theater feeling the true majesty of these powerful myths that have endured for thousands of years. They represent mankind’s mental and rational awakening from the dark age of unawareness, as well as a passionate need to understand the mysterious world around them. The result was the evolution of heartbreaking, beautiful, tragic and inspiring characters and stories that still manage to fill our imaginations with more awe than any modern story that has been thought up.

Instead, the new Clash of the Titans gives us something akin to Starship Troopers and 300, testosterone-infused CGI machines; although, I do have to say I enjoyed parts of this new film much more than the latter two.

While I am thrilled that these stories continue to be given cinematic treatment, I would really love to see them done right, giving dignity and respect to the source, and perpetuating the sorely lacking classical knowledge to our youth and increasingly removed men and women who no longer have to brave the mighty seas of Poseidon or face the horrifying Cyclops to reach their modern day goals.

That is what the cinema is there for now.

Polanski in Fine Form in Gripping “Ghost Writer”

Kim Cattrall and Ewan McGregor in the superb "Ghost Writer" 2010


Words are power. They have the ability to create people’s pasts, fabricate the most intimate, desperate motivations and faiths, and reconstruct someone’s entire trajectory of existence with the stroke of a pen. They also have the power to determine one’s innocence or unspeakable guilt.

These are times of extreme political and economic anxiety and upheaval. More than ever we have severe doubts and fears regarding those people in positions of high power, both in the United States and abroad. In many senses, the skies are cloudy and the wolves are closing in.

This conceit is rendered cinematically with high class and superb, electric, suspenseful style by Roman Polanski in The Ghost Writer, an adaptation of Robert Harris’s novel The Ghost.  Ever-dependable Ewan McGregor is the nameless title character, a ghost writer sent in to take over the writing of a memoir after the original ghost writer was found washed up on shore, dead and full of alcohol. He was in the middle of rendering in prose the life of UK Prime Minister Adam Lang, played with the right stuff by Pierce Brosnan. Lang is in the midst of accusations of war crimes by the I.C.C.

Lang’s premises where McGregor is taken to work is a grey, soulless fortress of staggering security, walled in by glass and symmetrical blocks of steel and cement, locking in any and all who enter. It is run faithfully by Amelia Bly, played with intelligent and loyal vivacity by Kim Cattrall, who is returning to her native English roots with a British accent. She leads McGregor where he needs to go, unlocking and safeguarding at every turn, only entrusting him with his predecessor’s hefty manuscript under lock and key and cameras, which can never be good for our hero.

Cattrall, Williams and Brosnan in "Ghost Writer"

The fortress is also visited by Lang’s wife Ruth played with impeccable complexity and riveting ferocity by Olivia Williams, a Lady Macbeth who is never far from her husband’s footsteps, invading the atmosphere with a swirling wrath and simmering, boiling control that sets McGregor off his word-assured confidence. We catch glimpses of Ruth advising and commanding her husband, before she vanishes only to show up again and scrutinize McGregor with unabashed authority and almost eerie, omniscient self-containment.

As the film progressed and unfolded in a labyrinthine, carefully executed and ominously paced style, I was reminded of Polanski’s film with Johnny Depp The Ninth Gate, (1999), also involving a man getting swept up in a world of mystery surrounding a text, being pursued by cars down narrow, winding streets, and moving deeper and deeper into a discombobulated circumstance that inexorably wound its seducing and dangerous arms around him and was surely going to take him down.

Imagine my surprise at the end of the film to find that it indeed was directed by Polanski. This was one rare instance for this blog writer where I did not know beforehand who directed the film.

One thing besides the immense intelligence and skill of the storytelling that stands out is the look. Completely enveloped in gray skies, bitter winds, roiling breakers in the ocean, and cool blacks and blues, The Ghost Writer is not a film that invites the soul. The very nature of the story, its themes, its characters, and its journey are multiple Dark Nights of the Soul, weathering one big storm that is surely not to pass, at least not without creating devastation and havoc in its wake.

Thrillers can be exasperating when not actually thrilling because of their dependence on the lead characters to make utterly fantastical and foolish leaps of faith and curiosity that more often alienate the viewer by their sheer ridiculousness than they do entrance and convince. Fortunately, McGregor’s character is so believable in his pursuit of the truth, and in his agreement to take the job despite knowledge of what happened to the previous writer. As a man, he has no wife or children, and lives in a bachelor apartment that resembles a dorm room more than a home. He has nothing to lose, and a chunk of cash and writing experience to gain. Unfortunately, by the time he realizes he’s in over his head it is too late.

Polanski truly is a throwback to Hitchcock. It is a pleasure to sit in a theater and become wrapped up in a delicious ride of intrigue, murder, suspense, and pathos that doesn’t feel cheap, manufactured, contrived, and soulless, like so many current outpourings from the studios.

It’s nice to see a filmmaker who is not afraid to invest faith and value in the art of slowly, slowly building a plot and to allow the suspense to bleed in and overtake the unsuspecting viewer, who realizes two thirds of the way in how tense they are in their seat. It’s a dying art, but with directors like Roman Polanski it doesn’t have to be completely dead.

I’m still shaking from the experience.

The Sadness of Being a ‘Single Man’


The western male eye is aggressive. It fixates, pinpoints, and exploits beauty and ugliness, forcibly lifting them out of the fray and banality of everyday details. Above all, the male eye hoists physical beauty onto the altar of high worship, and is perpetually bathing it in the divine light of praise.

In the gay world, there is hardly anything worse than growing old and infirm. From time immemorial, gay men’s eyes settle hard and predatorily on the young, beautiful boy. All else is wiped away in the wake of the Greek ideal, hard-muscled, lean, thin, and chiseled. The only tragedy worse than growing old is dying young and losing your blessed physical allure.

In Tom Ford’s A Single Man, Colin Firth plays George, a man whose partner of sixteen years dies suddenly in a car accident, and he is left numb and empty. The only thing remaining in his life is his long-time friend Charlotte, nicknamed Charley, played with British drunkenness by Julianne Moore. The two slept together several times while in college, which, as George says, “meant more to her.” She still pines for him, hoping one day he will realize that what he had with his lover was nice, but what he could have with her would be something “real.”

The film is a dream-like account of what George knows will be his last day on earth. And as such, each and every detail is microscopically enlarged for the audience; hands clasping eyeglasses, children playing in the yard, the terrorist-like penetration of people’s scrutinizing eyes, and above all, the Technicolor, seraphic beauty of men.

George wanders through his day, checking periodically to make sure his gun is still with him for the big moment. He even stages and rehearses different positions in his bedroom and bathroom, to get the right method down for when he finally pulls the trigger. Then the phone rings and he is summoned by Charlotte.

The most expansive, touching scene is between George and Charlotte at her luxurious house. She’s in a perpetual state of drunkenness and detachment, trying to stave off the pain caused by a broken marriage and a distant, absent son. Like so many of us, she wishes to have a true connection with the person she feels the most for, but is utterly incapable of forging such connection. She plies herself with drink and purple cigarettes and music, but ultimately has to return to her empty existence, when George kisses her goodbye and moves through the rest of his day.

A Single Man is a series of hallucinogenic close-ups of the male form, undulating and twisting through water, gazing upward, stretching, and descending like an angel deigning to touch down on mere mortal earth for just a few moments. But there is method behind it, not mere aestheticism. Knowing he is going to die, George is drinking in for the last time the very thing he no longer has in his life, the physicality that has been violently ripped out of his life and has left him a shell.

There are traces of Gore Vidal’s 1948 novel The City and the Pillar here, with the repressed adoration for that which is out of reach, particularly in such a time as the 40s or 50s. Like vampires, the gay male world formed an underground coven, covertly merging and making contact with the subtle male gaze that singles out and identifies members of the group.

Temptation is around every corner, and in every form. A young student of George’s wants to get close and flirt with what George represents, and is allowed in, but never completely. George manages to stave off every flirtation that comes his way like the Buddha turning the arrows into flowers before they can penetrate his body. Only, what he’s left with is his lonely grief, which he is turning around onto himself, in the form of self-destruction.

There is almost a masochistic voyeurism to George’s planned suicide; moving through his day, he is the audience and everyone around him the players, putting on their performances to please his eye, to remind him what he had, and what he now is missing. He remains detached and aloof, able to dismiss it all while simultaneously zeroing in and erotically filing it away in his head. He’s a thief of sorts, raping the beauty of the lost and the optimistic around him.

For a debut film, A Single Man shows immense artistic and storytelling promise in fashion designer Tom Ford. While the story is not groundbreaking, it does offer a nuanced approach to the middle-aged gay male journey, a universal one that is as common in 2010 as it was in the 1950s, despite outer changes in society and circumstance.

The gay man is Icarus, flying too close to the blazing sun and falling, burnt, into the waters of desolation. His worship of physical beauty can make him a prisoner of his own tastes. But to say that is the only ordeal George suffers is to simplify the film; we feel the ache of his true emotional loss, a man who gave him something beyond the physical, and helped to bring him alive. The cinematic focus on physical male beauty is George grasping for any details that revive, even for a second, the love of his life, as well as the desire he once had for erotic pleasure, a seeking that reassures one that they are an active participant in life. By the time the film starts, George is no longer a participant, but an automaton; the tragedy is that when real revelation comes along, it’s just too late.

Our 3-D World


The ever-burgeoning phenomenon of 3-D movies is a mixed bag to this filmgoer.

Coming on the heels of my private lamentation over decreased audience attendance at the quickly dwindling art form of movie theaters, 3-D movies may very well usher in a new era of theater-going experience, drawing more revenue and therefore maintaining the existence of cinemas. If so, I can hardly complain.

However, with the sweet comes the sour. If 3-D does revive the dying world of theater, studios may inevitably become only interested in churning out 3-D fare, thus disposing altogether “normal” films, making them a thing of the past, tossed in the same bin as cassettes and CD players. There is no voice to express the hurt and sorrow that would induce in me.

Yes, film is an interactive experience. Yes, depending on the story and setting, 3-D can enhance and emphasize the particular film. However, not every film should be rendered in this psychedelic style.

You don’t pour Ranch dressing on everything just because you can. Pretty soon everything would taste the same.

The 3-D phenomenon is yet one more nail in the coffin of pre-A.D.D. culture. Pretty soon there will be no reason for any child or person to lift a finger, twitch a mental or emotional antenna, or reach for the stars of their own universe. That universe will be rendered, packaged, glittered, and hand-delivered for their passive viewing pleasure.

It will soon be commonplace to hear what has already been heard by this blog writer: “Why go there when I can see it online or in 3-D?”

This is scary. Very scary.

This mental and physical ennui will give way to complete despondence and antipathy, which I can foresee leading to lack of any interest or need whatsoever in even hearing stories told in any format. Decadence chokes on its limitlessness and overabundance of images. All these shiny things flying in literal 3-D at our new generations from every corner of their day-to-day lives will end by rendering life dull and impotently unsuitable to live up to the technological panorama of the 21st century.

“Sure, the ocean is pretty in person,” our kids will say one day, “but it’s nothing compared to what my Wii can make.”

“Why bother interacting with people at the local bowling alley when I have my Wii? Besides, I can make the bowling ball change colors during my game!”

Paradoxically, we reject and turn away from the reality of our lives and seek it in other avenues – various art forms – that by their nature are not and cannot supply reality (the joke of “reality tv” being the ultimate example of this). Then we turn back toward reality and expect it to mimic and be the hyper-reality of film, television, and image-driven media. Our subsequent depression by this failed attempt mystifies and confuses us, stunting our relation to life all the more.

Nature will be expected to race to catch up to the allure and glamour of our 3-D screens, or it will be left behind in the dust of mere reality, sans sexy careening machines and otherworldly planets that beat this washed up world we can no longer stand to be in and distract ourselves from by this sordid immersion.

So my plea: keep theaters going, but do not dissolve the richness of 2-D films into the mire of schizophrenic and desensitizing 3-D whirl and seduction.

Burton’s “Alice” Fun, but Lacking Manners

The world of Tim Burton's new "Alice in Wonderland" 2010


English poet Lionel Johnson coined the phrase that sums up the nineteenth century English fin de siècle (“end of the century”): “Life must be a ritual.”

English author Lewis Carroll bears the distinction of not only paving the literary way for writers like Oscar Wilde and setting down in the world of books and imagination the concept of the absurd; he was also, for a time, suspected of being Jack the Ripper. Though evidence was lacking and he was quickly released from suspicion, one can almost see the temptation to believe there is something about the man that is not all “normal.” Not that he would want to be.

According to friends and relatives, Carroll abhorred little boys: “To me,” he said, “they are not an attractive race of beings.” However, he was fascinated by little girls, and himself bore a striking resemblance to women: long hair and a “curiously womanish face.”

I’ve heard many versions of the origin of the Alice stories, but for some reason the one that sticks out in my head is an image of him rowing a boat with his little niece, and plucking the elements of this fantastical, absurd, and hallucinatory story out of the springtime air.

But drugs may have entered in there as well.

In all seriousness, Alice in Wonderland should be known not only for its wacky characters and otherworldly, nonsensical setting; one should keep in mind the motives and thoughts of Carroll’s that went into the story’s structure and methods. The story really is a rebuttal of sorts, or a reaction to, Victorian society of its time, involving the obsession with manners, etiquette, and tea-time. The Alice books flip these established social rules on their heads and, in so doing, reveal their infinite paradoxes and inane shallowness.

Tim Burton, director of the new film version Alice in Wonderland, said he tried to insert more emotion into the film that seemed to be lacking from the original story. However, in studying the genre and approach of Carroll’s time, the intention behind it was not to invest pathos and sympathy, but rather to use the characters almost as aesthetic pawns and “objets d’art” to prove the artist’s point(s) about his themes, e.g. the “wit, hierarchy, and spiritual hermaphroditism”, according to Camille Paglia.

English society of the late nineteenth century is known for a higher tolerance of eccentricity, and a high gay male population. Carroll started and Oscar Wilde breathtakingly brought to its peak the persona of the English epicene, the man of polite society who embodies both the feminine art of languid leisure, and the masculine art of wit as swordplay. The salon of the epicene is where the genders cross and merge, and all players are equal.

In Carroll, manners are mathematical and not moral; they are detached from any human reality and therefore lifted to the realm of the absurd. But they are methodical in their dealings, in their presentation. It is not “no holds barred”, a hodgepodge of dreamy, loopy storylines that have no consistency. Whenever a writer creates a new world, they must do so with clearly drawn lines of their own, otherwise it would be no different than three-year-old Sally making up stories while coloring with a crayon.

Burton’s new version is a delightful romp and very colorful to look at. However, I would have invested it with a little more darkness, a sharper sense of an ominous pursuit of Alice by the Red Queen, and brought in more of the dialogue relating to the absurdity of manners of the English epicene.

The tea-table scene between Alice and the Mad Hatter scores several important points for very specific reasons, and that is why it has remained throughout the last century the pinnacle representation of the whole story. It is a verbal chess game, and the rules of the rest of Wonderland may as well be the chess pieces laid out ahead of time by Alice and the Hatter.

Though many would not consciously understand it without delving into cultural study, in the collective unconscious the world audience knows that the tea-table is making a battlefield of sorts of an established, repressed, precious, and highly structured societal graph; Carroll takes that graph and screws with its lines, rearranging and crisscrossing the ordered symmetry, much to his society’s annoyance. But that annoyance is what gives the story its delight.