Author: Laura Woods

Laura Woods is a poet from Ireland, currently working on her first collection. She can be contacted at l.woods1331@gmail.com.
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A shot from Peter Mullen's "The Magdalene Sisters", depicting a young man and woman flirting.

Art As Issue: On Peter Mullen’s “The Magdalene Sisters” (2002)

I sometimes wonder how my life would’ve been if I’d been born 50 or 100 years before. Typically, these ponderings are answered by the sense of having made a narrow escape. Learning that the last of the Magdalene laundries was shut down just the year before I was born is almost surreal, having grown up in an Ireland experiencing its first flushes of wealth and donning a newfound secularism. The abuses of the church were becoming something to be taken for granted, rather than being trapped in whispers. Yet, the truth that Peter Mullen’s The Magdalene Sisters depicts is that mental freedom is much harder come by than the physical kind. I’ve heard the quiver that lingers in so many older people’s voices when they speak of the nuns that tormented them back in primary school—70 years on. The suspicions that they lacked the language to express, back then, about the parish priest’s strange behaviour.

Of course, most of these people remain devout Catholics. The label of “anti-Catholic” is typically tossed out as a lazy attempt to refute those who are frank about the abuses the Church allowed and facilitated. The Magdalene Sisters predictably got this same tarring, yet there is no condemnation of any religious doctrine here. In fact, it’s pointed out that many of the women retained their faith, as their real-life counterparts overwhelmingly did. The abuses depicted here are not solely the domain of those in habit and cassock, but are recognisable wherever complacency and fear allow cruelty to fester. […]

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Posters over time depicting Fritz Lang's classic silent film, "Metropolis" (1927).

Myth in Motion: Review of Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927)

Sometimes, restriction can push greatness into being, heightening what’s left in its confines. I’ve often noticed this in poetry, with certain writers reaching their zeniths in formalism while their talent slackens in free verse. But my recent attempts to become more acquainted with silent films have provided me with another example of this principle at work. In fact, I often find myself thinking that silent cinema seems like a whole different medium to the “talkies” (it’s really kind of a shame that it couldn’t have continued to develop alongside the latter as a parallel variant of film, but I digress). Silence instils its own demands, and so, its own unique opportunities for pay-offs. What clearer demonstration could be had of this than watching Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis?

Viewing Metropolis in 2024, I’m left with an impression of something both familiar, and somehow alien. The film’s depiction of its setting has created a wake of imitators over the last almost 100 years of science fiction—its skyscrapers continue to loom in pop-culture’s view of The Future. Metropolis’s towering imagery has left its imprint, and yet this does nothing to diminish the distinctive power that it holds. Part of the visual signature of the film, and in my opinion, one of the most striking and unusual (to modern eyes) aspects, is in the stylised way its actors move. I often felt like I was watching a dance. From the opening scenes of workers mechanically trudging like cattle at their shift change, we move to the fluid frolicking of the city’s young elites in their gardens above, and through their movement, we understand all that we need to about this unequal world. It’s not altogether realistic—but this is a strength, since it’s very much in keeping with the fable-like tone of the story. […]

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Two stylized shots from Akira Kurosawa's "Ikiru" and Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life", focusing in on the portraits of each film protagonist, set side by side.

Imagined Shores: on Frank Capra and Akira Kurosawa

What does it mean for someone to give to the world? To live their life as to leave an imprint? It’s easy to contemplate this concept as it relates to the types of figures who are name-dropped in the history books. The means to this is relatively straightforward (in idea if not execution) if you are an artist, or a scientist, or an activist, leader, even an athlete. You do what you’re best at and do it as well as you can (to put it simply). But what about the rest of us? For the majority of the human race, any individual’s scope of influence is a narrow groove, constrained to those immediately around them. Any impact is going to be brief and light-handed.

With this idea on my mind, I recently rewatched two films that explore the impact of the non-Exceptional individual- Kurosawa’s Ikiru (1952) and Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946). In my opinion, both are great films (Ikiru is more complex, especially structurally, but that is not to dismiss the fact that It’s A Wonderful Life is of a higher quality than it is often given credit for). But right now, I don’t care so much to embark on a work of intricate criticism. Sitting at the brink of a new year, I just feel like pulling a few of the threads presented by both films. […]

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A stylized portrait of Erich Maria Remarque, author of "The Way Back" and "All Quiet on the Western Front", sitting down holding a cane.

What Comes After: Reviewing Erich Maria Remarque’s “The Way Back”

I had never heard of The Way Back until relatively recently. An acquaintance mentioned that Erich Maria Remarque’s more famous wartime work, All Quiet on the Western Front, had a sequel (of sorts). It seems I’m not alone in that little ignorance, as The Way Back has been greatly overshadowed by its predecessor. While that’s a shame, since it’s an excellent novel in its own right, it’s somehow apt. War itself cannot be ignored – it carries a prurient thrill, no matter how pacifist a slant you put on it – but no such satisfaction can be gotten from its aftermath.

So it’s not surprising that this book has been ignored, just as the ex-soldiers it portrays are overlooked by the civilian world they return to. All Quiet on the Western Front begins with a dedication, to “a generation that was destroyed by the war –even those who survived the shelling”, and The Way B ack is a sequel insofar as it continues to unravel that thread. It is narrated by Ernst Birkholz, who is a kind of kindred spirit to the earlier novel’s Paul Baumer. One of the masses, yet a little too sensitive and observant to be really called an Everyman. […]

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A stylized shot of Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher) and her father in Terrence Malick's "The New World".

Inner Terrains: Reviewing Terrence Malick’s “The New World”

Sometimes it occurs to me that many idioms are quite evocative when you consider their literal meaning, however dulled by usage they’ve become. How many times have you heard the New/Old World dichotomy being used to describe the Americas vs Europe? And how many times have you really felt the sentiment underpinning that phrase?

In Terrence Malick’s 2005 film, the title accrues resonances beyond being merely a stock phrase to describe America. We watch a ship glide towards land to the grandiose strains of Wagner’s Das Rheingold– we see the joy that alights on a chained man belowdecks as he glimpses the terrain through a porthole. All of this utterly evokes the dreamlike novelty that will lead the colonists to speak of this World as a place laden with promise. And yet, for all that the watcher is momentarily caught up in that rich sense of potential- this film is no sentimental paean to Manifest Destiny. You are not left to forget the immense subjectivity of the term “new” here, as the natives observe the approaching intruders. […]