#317. The Unvanquished (Aparajito) (1956-1959)

This is Satyajit Ray’s sequel to Pather Panchali, middle installment of his Apu Trilogy (the first full trilogy to appear on the List, I think), and I admire it to death, I think it’s visually beautiful and emotionally resonant, but I much prefer Pather Panchali because, apart from being one of the most warming and absorbing depictions of both childhood and the outdoors that I’ve seen on the List so far, it’s a happier movie somehow (despite the fact that it ends in tragedy). But the gut-punch of grief at the end of Pather Panchali gives the sense of like…falling from Eden. The loss of something more than a person’s life.

            As a character loses their life, the other characters lose their way of life.

            The Unvanquished finds Apu and his family relocated to a big city where, at the beginning, they’re hanging out ont his vast palacial staircase that descends to a dock, directly into the water—so right away we’re seeing a massive structure of human engineering that’s been built as much for beauty and for utility, which is unlike anything we saw in the rural setting of the previous installment. The tone of daily family life is the same, everybody loving and contented, there’s no quickly-discernible plot.

            It’s interesting right away because, while the characters are familiar and there’s something sad and beautiful in seeing how they’ve aged, the look of the thing is so different. Same world, different outfit.

            But Apu’s father, now a priest instead of a teacher/poet, soon dies. Apu and his mother are alone and tehre’s some vibe now between the two of them, being halves of a pair instead of units in a larger family network, that feels uncomfortably heavy and reminds me of the nights in that first year after my parents’ separation. Something about the two of you being a pair now that’s been permanently sundered from the team that brought you together. (I think that was all kind of traumatic, frankly, living alone with my dad in those months. Though I guess virtually everybody goes through it, right?)

            Digression: my ultimaete writing challenge this past year, half as long as the novel but twice as hard, was drafting the first 40 or 50 pages of the Thousand Movie Project book for a 90-page proposal. It took days of freewriting before I figured out how the book would beign. What finally started flowing naturally was an account of how I discovered, fell in love with, and began to emulate a YouTuber named The L.A. Beast who was training, at the time, to become the fastest man to walk across America. So he’d made all these videos chronicling his freakishly long walks, of which I think his longest trek was 60 miles over the course of 24 hours.

L.A. Beast after his disabling 60-mile walk.

            So then I started going on ten- and twelve- and fifteen-mile walks, hours at a time, consuming audiobooks in droves. At the tiem I saw no correlation between this newfound obsession with long punishing walks and my parents’ recent divorce.

            L.A. Beast had to abort his project after puncturing his lung in a car wreck, and shortly afterward I called it quits with the long walks too.

            I started Thousand Movie Project shortly aterward.

And I find lately that, when a movie rings my bell, I get to riffing about their divorce and the fallout from that divorce in a way that I don’t think I’ve really discussed it in person with anyone except maybe a half dozen times with my ex, a couple times with my colleague Jay…

            The Unvanquished is one of the movies to ring that bell for me—and in a heavier way than even All That Heaven Allows because the element of isolation that I’m talking about, where it’s suddenly just the mom and her son, that’s right at the beginning. The movie goes on to show how Ap wants to go away to Calcutta and get an education, lead his own life, but he’s handicappped because he knows that he’s the only family his mother has left, and he can’t bring her with him. So there’s a conflict about wanting to do right by his family but also wanting to live his own life.

            I’m not the only person in either of my parents’ life, but they were both changed by the divorce, as I suppose I was too, and so our dynamics have all changed. One of them will tell me with a warily loadded gaze that I sure am being vulgar and revealing with the stuff I post online—wherupon I’m forked by the impulse to dial it back, and muzzle myself out of respect, as well as the impulse to double down, and get more vulgar.

            Anyway: this movie was uncomfortable because it shows that portrait of a young adult kid being in an isolated relationship with a parent, the pair of them suddenly meaning almost too much to one another, loving and resenting, etcetera. I guess it’s extra uncomfortably powerful because it prods at wounds I haven’t yet looked at.

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