Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body, by Martin Pistorius

At the age of twelve the author and narrator of this story (Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body, 2013, by Martin Pistorius) began to lose control of his body.  His muscles weakened. He lost the ability to walk and talk.  His memories and cognitive abilities faded. Ultimately, he entered a vegetative state from which no real recovery was expected. For five years there was oblivion.  His father and mother cared for him, frantically seeking help from doctors and others.  Ultimately his mother gave up and tried to kill herself.  After five years, he began to see flashes of the world.  Within two years he was fully conscious but unable to move or communicate. He had no memory of his previous life.  He saw and heard everything around him, but no one knew he was there.

Over the next fifteen years, Pistorius returns to life.  He never regains speech or general use of his body, but through various means he learns to communicate and reconnect.  Undoubtedly this book itself was painstakingly typed into one of the devices he uses to communicate. Telling his own story, he also tells the story of his parents and siblings, of his sense of isolation and loss. Finally, over the Internet, he meets a woman and falls in love and they marry.

The most engrossing aspects of this story concern the years prior to his return to life, before he could communicate, before people knew he was something more than an insensible body. There are no great philosophical insights here.  The recovery itself is remarkable enough, and it reminds us how tenuous our grip on reality is, how quickly we can lose it. The account raises the question of what the Self is, whether it can exist at all locked within the mind beyond contact with the outer world. (What Self do any of us have, beyond the web of people and places and events that make up our reality?) Much of the latter part of this book, about his attempts to learn language, to form romantic attachments, to educate himself, to gain independence from the parents who cared for him through many long years, is prosaic and not especially interesting. But, as I said before, the recovery itself is remarkable.

Thursday, January 14, 2016


Where do we place blame?  Discussions of the deplorable situation in Mexico, Columbia, and other parts of the world embroiled in and torn by the illegal drug market either ignore the question entirely or become so caught up in it that the problems on the ground seem to disappear.  We can suggest that the market for cocaine and heroin in the United States creates the demand that leads to the chaos and crime of Northern Mexico.  No doubt that market exists, but it exists in other parts of the world as well.  The demand for illegal drugs may help create the market, but if we somehow prove that argument we have not addressed the drug trade itself.  And if all we do is deplore the lawlessness and terror that predominate in certain parts of such a place as Mexico, then we ignore the cause, and if we don’t address the cause the market, somewhere, somehow, is going to be there.

The film Sicario (2015, dir. Denis Villeneuve) tries to consider cause.  The result is confusion.  In one long-distance shot, the camera pans from neatly ordered streets of an Arizona border town across the river to a disorderly, chaotically arranged, decidedly ominous Mexican town—presumably Juarez.  The music for the film, which relies on ominous drumbeats and portentous groaning bass notes, colludes in the effect.  Here in Mexico we’re asked to see the Other, the dark and uncivilized heart of the drug wars that seem to be infiltrating areas around the border with the United States.  Therefore, it’s Mexico that is the problem.

But the film hedges its bets and in the end suggests that not only has the demand for drugs in the US created the drug trade, but that the tactics of certain US law enforcement and security units devised the tactics that came to be the stock and trade in terror of the Mexican drug lords.  In this case, it’s the CIA that has become involved in trying to subdue the drug lords, but in so doing its operatives sink to a level of lawlessness and terror that is, so the film would have it, hardly separate from that of the drug lords itself. This is simplistic.

I hoped to find in this movie an intelligent attempt at portraying and even understanding the problem.  Instead, I found a veneer of ultra-realism, suspense, and first-person shooter video game substituting for perceptiveness. The film tries to mimic the method of faux documentaries like Zero Dark Thirty, Black Hawk Down, Syriana but the result is an action adventure film that pretends to be more than it is.