From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

No Objectivity: The Year of Magical Thinking

The Cabinet of Dr Caligari

Sure, it’s an oldie and you saw it in Film and Media Studies 101, but we all know you slept through it. There’s no time like Halloween to revisit a movie that is now best-known as the name of a thousand faux-Goth bars. When it was released in 1920, the movie stunned audiences. By presenting a then-unknown narrative structure (the elusive “flashback”) and adding a twist ending that was still new enough to have impact, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari set the standard for atmospheric, supernatural horror. (It’s worth watching just to see what ruined the dreams of a million writers who wrote stories in which It’s Just a Dream.)


If you’re apprehensive about your annual Thanksgiving trek to a family feast, there’s no better medicine than this Civil War-era supernatural cannibal adventure. A darkly comic take on the Wendigo myth, Ravenous explores what happens when Manifest Destiny runs into a charming and immortal gent who’s the Mario Batali of human flesh. Two heavyweight actors (Guy Pearce and Robert “I was in the running for Doctor Who” Carlyle) take what could be a dour topic and turn it into a dark comedy that will have you rethinking your holiday menu. Try the stew!

Whale Rider

An understated and beautiful film, Whale Rider presented the mythic idea of the Heir to a Dynasty with such realism that the magical element is easy to miss. While the young Paikea struggles to be accepted as her grandfather’s successor, a magic power of a different kind is building inside of her; the strained family relationships might be a little too realistic to watch when you’re at home for the holidays, but it’s worth finding a quiet moment just to see the scene when a lonely Paikea stands on the beach and calls the whales. (Fair Warning: You will probably cry. Have Kleenex and tea handy.)

January (2010)

A new year is a new beginning – and nothing says “new beginning” like a movie about a sad writer surrounded by mysterious beauties and obsessed with a futuristic train peopled with lovelorn androids. 2046 is one of the best Movies About Writers ever made; its protagonist is as flawed as the movie is layered, and the movie succeeds at transcending its mandate and becoming, instead, an ode to the magic of story and how it shapes our lives. From an artistic perspective, admire the stunning aesthetics; from a practical standpoint, make notes not to fall in love with more than three tragic women this year.

Genevieve Valentine is a writer in New York; her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, Farrago’s Wainscot, Diet Soap, Journal of Mythic Arts, and Fantasy. Her appetite for bad movies is insatiable, a tragedy she tracks on her blog. She is currently working on a formula to evaluate the awfulness of any given film, a scale that will be measured in Julians.

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