Monday, September 17, 2012

The Peanut Gallery: Third Star

This was apparently the weekend to discover terribly beautiful, painful stuff.  For some bizarre reason, in a set of coincidental circumstances that I can't understand, my parents' cable provider had the film Third Star on their on-demand film choices. I really don't know why. Perhaps they think that a few strange Anglophiles who know Benedict Cumberbatch from Sherlock and/or Hugh Bonneville from Downton Abbey would watch it. Or maybe Charter Cable is just getting more diverse in its film options and someone decided, "You know, we don't have enough artistic films that make people cry on our listings this month. We should throw this one on there. Especially because we have Strippers Versus Werewolves as a choice and we really need something to balance out the options" (I kid you not, Strippers Versus Werewolves was an option. My mother and I watched the trailer. It looked as awful as we predicted). 

For whatever reason, on the listing it was and when I saw the title I was shocked. I explained to my mom how I knew of its existence (Tumblr once again) and the fact that apparently it has caused many a Cumberbabe a large amount of traumatic sobbing. So, my mother did what any good parent of a young woman obsessed with a British actor confronted with a film he stars in would do - she insisted we watch it.

How do I describe this movie without giving it all away? Let me use two songs that I'd been listening to before I watched the film and for some bizarre (and also coincidental reason) fit rather well with the whole scheme of things:

(Of Monters and Men, I can't stop listening to this song. And this was before I correlated it to the movie. What is this sorcery?)

Also, this:

(Many thanks to my mother for listening to the Current and encountering this song in all its symphonic, melancholic glory.)

In words, rather than music, this film was absolutely amazing. Tragic, surprisingly humorous, a film with one of the most striking cinematography I've seen, beautifully written,... and it made me cry. Quite a bit. And I always give films brownie points for doing that (because I use to cry a lot during films; I cried through the entire third Lord of the Rings movie when I first saw it, but I think that's because I saw it as a metaphor for change in my life. And now I cry less often due to much effort to hide my emotions. So extra kudos to those that get me to tear up).
If the narrative of this film wasn't striking enough - a man dying of cancer goes on a camping trip with his three closes friends to Barafundle Bay, Wales - and the visuals weren't already gorgeous, the camera effects somehow are able to express the emotions of four separate characters incredibly poignantly and the actors are superb. I thought again and again whilst watching this that if my friends from high school were to go on a trip like this, this would be exactly how the trip would go. I saw aspects of myself in all of the characters as well as many of my friends and it was impossible not to sympathize with them all. And the techniques used by the camera as well as Cumberbatch's expression as James' of pain and the effects of morphine that he experiences were incredible; I was physically cringing at parts. But there are three other aspects of this film that I really appreciate and would like to dwell on a bit:

1) The title: Third Star is a reference to a line uttered by James, quoting Peter Pan: "Third Star to the right and straight on 'til morning." Considering that JM Barrie spent a lot of time dwelling on death as his brother died when he was very young and his mother mentioned that his brother would never grow up, this was a wonderfully fitting line and title. Also, the film reminded me a bit of Finding Neverland, mostly because I think they are both the rare film that I love and yet it tortures me with its narrative progression.

2) I would like to take a moment to recognize that half of this film is a group of men talking about their emotions. There is too little of this onscreen; apparently having emotions is a "feminine" concept and thus the tendency is for men to be fierce and violent rather than talking about they feel and having a greater emotional range than anger and nonchalance. Third Star does a wonderful job expanding an emotional range onscreen for men while also doing a good job of expressing them as rather realistic human beings. It's neither just a buddy adventure story nor tearjerker; it's both of these and interweaves them elegantly. 

Hattie Dalton, director of Third Star (
Also, this film is directed by a woman. Not going to make a big deal out of this (because it shouldn't be a big deal) but there are too few female directors and this causes me to love the film even more.

3) Thematics and stuff: The issues presented in this film, with death, agency (having control over one's life), coping, and friendship were exquisitely conveyed and, even though by the end of film I felt like I'd had my heart ripped out of my chest and set on fire, it was strangely... nice. There's a strange sort of enjoyment in watching a tragic film that leaves me feeling more vibrant and more alive than the usual happy ending. Which is kind of troubling, because I rarely want to watch a sad movie. But there's almost a sense of exuberance at the emotional roller coaster that one's experienced, that it's nice to know you can feel these emotions and yet not actually have them affect your immediate life. I'll admit, it's sort of twisted. But there is something appealing about tragedies that draws me in, that causes me to react to them more deeply. They have a special space of appreciation in my heart.


  1. I agree with point three! I watched it several months ago with one of my flatmates, and I sobbed throughout the last twenty minutes or so. She said she'd never seen someone cry so violently ever, let alone for just a film. It did set me off bad, which was probably also for other I-tend-to-hide-my-emotions reasons than just because of the film, but still... a minute or two before the end I really did feel alive, and I was grinning and laughing through the tears. I think she's thinking twice about watching a sad film with me again. I then showed it to my mother who also really enjoyed it, which was good because we often don't agree on films.

    I remember saying to her that I enjoyed it partly in the same way that I enjoy reading fanfiction - I like stories where no "big adventure" happens (although you could say this was a sort of big adventure in that it was life-changing) and you're just immersed in someone's everyday life. If that means you listen to them talk about seemingly aimless things whilst they're on a walk, so be it. It's life, and it's wonderful.

    A few weeks after I watched the film, my grandad died fairly suddenly of cancer. I can't begin to tell you how much this film helped me with that. The discussion about what happens after you die - the comment about stars, and also the final lines "remember that you were loved by me and you made my life a happy one. And there's no tragedy in that." just stuck with me.

    Sorry for the very long comment! I probably went on a bit too much there. TL;DR: I really liked this film when I saw it several months ago, and I agree with all of your points, especially point 3.

    1. Don't apologize for long comments; I absolutely love them! I'm glad this film helped you after you lost your grandad; that must have been very difficult but having a story like this that is so honest about loss I imagine did help a great deal <3 The last line really stuck with me too and I keep thinking about it randomly (though it doesn't help that I've just read John Green's The Fault in Our Stars. It's in a similar vein as the film, actually, and also very lovely and tragic).

      I like what you said about no "big adventure" - it is a rather simple story, in that there's not a complicated plot or a lot of typical film action. All of the big action comes from emotional changes and revelations. And the way that it's used in this film is really powerful and more effective than epic chase scenes or plot devices. You're right - it's just everyday life. But the film makes it important and absolutely beautiful.