Sunday, March 27, 2016

#785: Apur Sansar

(Satyajit Ray, 1959)

The final chapter of The Apu Trilogy is the most affecting. This is partially because of the commitment already put in to this character, the emotional stakes that come with four prior hours spent with a human and watching him grow from his first moments to a grown man. But the film also features the biggest gut punch of a death in an already formidable line of gut-punch deaths. Compounded by the fate of the relationship between Apu and his new son, the film's central turning point is quite overwhelming. But even as the film turns toward a poetic third act and a hopeful ending, the emotions of the thing never feel forced or manipulative. Apur Sansar is heartbreaking and uplifting. This trilogy is, like Yi Yi, the story of what encapsulates all of human experience in the era of cinema - family, modernity, art in an age of technology, love, education, belief, and most of the all the individual struggling with all of this to grasp at meaning in existence.

As the father of a boy who is about to turn five, Apur Sansar is a complex emotional ride. On the one hand, I've watched Apu's whole life - I've seen the loss that has come from being close to people, and I've seen his struggle to define himself as an individual. Through this experience, the impact of his wife's death hits so hard that it isn't a surprise that he walks away from the son he hasn't met - nor is it a move that turns me against him. Yet I know the joy and rewarding existential moments he is missing by rejecting his child. I also know the dependence of a child on their parents and the bond between a father and a son, so his logical decision is nevertheless tragic. I cried through the second half of this movie, both for Apu and for his son.

Apu says that he abandons his son because he couldn't bear to be reminded that he lived because his mother died. It goes much deeper than this, of course, back to his home village and the death of his sister, through to the moment when he had no one and nothing and decided to do something he deemed honorable in a naïve and romantic moment of foolishness. It's impossible for virtually anyone reading this post or watching this Criterion release to fully understand Apu's motivation, yet Ray has lent his life such a universal humanism that it's impossible not to relate. The final moment does not feel forced because we know this human, we know it is inevitable he will open his heart to this boy, and we root for them as they walk off into the distance even though there is almost certainly more heartbreak to be had.

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