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Harry Potter (#110 of 4)

Grappling with Intellectual Disability Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories

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Grappling with Intellectual Disability: Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories
Grappling with Intellectual Disability: Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories

Michael Bérubé’s The Secret Life of Stories: From Don Quixote to Harry Potter How Understanding Intellectual Disability Transforms the Way We Read is that rare book that manages to speak to its specialized academic audience while imagining and addressing a much broader readership. Bérubé, who’s the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Literature and Director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, has crafted an accessible, if still rigorous, study of the way fiction grapples with intellectual disability.

“Representations of disability are ubiquitous,” he states in his opening sentence, “far more prevalent and pervasive than (almost) anybody realizes.” Take Disney’s Dumbo: You maybe wouldn’t use the language of disability to describe the oversized ears of the titular elephant, but at the heart of the 1941 film is a message about overcoming—embracing even—one’s differences in order to succeed. By the end of Bérubé’s book, you’re likely to start spotting the way disability is often used as a trope in films as diverse as Minority Report, Total Recall, and Mad Max: Fury Road. But Bérubé wants to push us further than merely understanding the ubiquity of disability in pop culture. This is especially important as disability (both physical and intellectual) is often used as a metaphor or character trait in popular art, significant only in the way it teaches us something about a story or a character with rarely any nuance with regard to the disability itself.

Back There Again: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>
Back There Again: <em>The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey</em>

Once the distinct, familiar sense of wonder took hold, I felt a sharp pang of guilt watching The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, part one of Peter Jackson’s long-gestating Lord of the Rings prequel. Here’s a movie that so many, myself included, regarded with great prejudice, sizing it up as a cute jaunt that had to be seen along with the other year-end contenders, yet reeked of folly, diminished stakes, and outright opportunism, its attachment to a trilogy making excess seem like one more strike against it. But, then, as Jackson’s camera began scanning New Zealand’s topography, with majestic Howard Shore accompaniment, this arrogant miscalculator (and ardent Rings fan) sat humbled and corrected. Jackson may not boast a sterling track record post-Return of the King, and The Hobbit may have suffered a heap of development hell, passing from Jackson to (eventual co-writer) Guillermo del Toro like a certain burdensome bauble, but shame on all who doubt the enduring, enveloping power of Jackson’s Middle-earth, an immersive and comprehensive filmic world if ever there was one. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey brought me right back to a place I didn’t realize I was missing, a widescreen realm that seems to exist to widen the eyes.

Poster Lab: Seven Psychopaths

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Poster Lab: <em>Seven Psychopaths</em>
Poster Lab: <em>Seven Psychopaths</em>

No, it’s not just you—the poster for Martin McDonagh’s Seven Psychopaths looks awfully familiar, despite the blinding neon green it uses to lasso your attention. Not long ago, you saw a markedly similar lineup of badass characters, glaring out at you from the one-sheet for Guy Ritchie’s Snatch. Like that memorable image, which put Brad Pitt front and center in a stylish hat, the new ad features one guy in the contrasting gleam of a leather jacket, and another in a heavy coat that highlights his exasperated, straight-man’s shrugged shoulders. But it’s more than just single file and fashion that unites these two posters. Seven Psychopaths follows Snatch’s lead so fully that it even opts to spike its plot—and, subsequently, advertising—with a little dog too. Instead of Pitt’s leashed, squeak-toy-swallowing pooch, there’s a wee, fluffy Shih Tzu, whose ironic cuteness speaks to McDonagh’s light-black tone, and who reportedly serves as the movie’s MacGuffin. However fun it may be to eye up a row of attractive rogues, it’s a tad disheartening that this Irish maestro’s latest had to plainly mirror a cult British production, as if there’s only one way to sell Euro crime comedies.