Sloth in Film

Finding examples of ‘sloth’ in films has been more challenging, chiefly due to the reason that a director and screenwriter would presumably want to make films that would interest people and ‘sloth’ as a topic does not seem altogether interesting enough to grab people’s attention for at least an hour and a half! However, I have searched high and low and found a few examples than in some way could be said to feature the sin of ‘sloth.’

Reality Bites 1994

I recently re-watched Reality Bites [DVD] [1994] after watching it as a teenager in the nineties. What struck me first about it was how much the nineties hair, make up and fashion has swung around again and looks contemporary! This film was the first film that Ben Stiller directed and very different from the comedy films he was involved in later.

This film is a serious drama about four friends from university who graduate into the early-mid nineties recession and find that getting a good job is much more difficult than they at first anticipated. Lelaina (Winona Ryder) wants to be a serious documentary film-maker and initially films the lives of her flatmates. She finds however that breaking into this industry is much harder than she at first thought and starts off after graduation working on an awful cheesy morning local TV show for a dreadful host. Hope arrives in the chance meeting of TV executive Michael Grates (Ben Stiller) who works for a music channel that is expanding its programming into other areas. They begin dating for a while and he is interested in getting her documentary produced by his channel. Lelaina’s best friend is Vickie played by Janeanne Garafolo who is a kind of dead pan cool girl, who is promiscuous and jaded. She finds work after graduation at The Gap and becomes manager after a short while working there. The other friend in their group is Sammy Gray who struggles with his sexuality and comes out to his parents during the course of the film.

The final character in the group and the one that I will talk mostly about is Troy Dyer played by Ethan Hawke. Troy is in the true nineties sense of the work a ‘slacker’ who could be seen to be very sloth-like. He has been fired from twelve jobs, in the last position he was sacked from working in a news kiosk because he ate one of the chocolate bars! He is arrogant and especially loathing of Michael (his love rival for Lelaina) who he sees as an unintelligent ‘yuppie.’ Troy was only ten units away from graduating in a degree in Philosophy but would rather be in an amateur guitar band and continue living a permanent student lifestyle. A typical quote from Troy sums up his character:

“There’s no point in any of this. It’s all just a random lottery of meaningless tragedy and a series of near escapes. So I take pleasure in the details. Quarter Pounder with Cheese, those are good…I sit back and I smoke my camel cigarettes and I ride on my mount.”

He displays an arrogance in his behaviour, believing that he knows everything despite being the only student who did not graduate in the group and the one without a regular job. At times during the film though you do get a sense of who Troy really is under this unappealing persona, he can be sweet and kind though he often behaves otherwise.

The whole film is essentially about growing up, gaining maturity and perspective and finding their adult selves. It is interesting to see the development of the characters across the course of the film, especially Lalaina and Troy’s. The sloth displayed in Troy’s character does go through some kind of evolution and leaves me to wonder if the film was made today (disregarding the aesthetic which has come around again) whether the ending would be the same? I won’t give anything more away in case you want to watch it but it is an interesting film.

Somewhere 2010

Somewhere [DVD] (2010) by Sofia Coppola is a slow paced, dreamy kind of film. It is typical in aesthetic vision to Coppola’s other films. In Somewhere, we see the rich, idle figure of successful film star Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff) who is recuperating from an injury at the luxurious Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood while he reflects on his shallow Hollywood existence. Johnny lives a life of decadent slothfulness and appears to be unable to feel any excitement in his life. He views his life as a series of pointless exercises and clearly suffers from depression and ennui which appear to be caused by his wealthy and famous lifestyle which further divorce him from the reality of the outside world.

We see a change in Johnny however, when he is asked by his ex-wife to look after his eleven year old daughter Cleo (Elle Fanning). The sense of responsibility that being a father brings seems to make him regret his slothful, shallow existence. When Cleo leaves for Summer camp he is devastated but there is a small piece of hope left in that he now understands that money cannot buy you happiness and he seems to decide to change the way he has been existing.

This film seems to say that a life of rich idleness is no life at all and that having more money does not protect you from depression. In some ways the film advocates a Buddhist philosophy, in that being mindful and cherishing the everyday relationships that one has over any material consideration is the way to leading a happy life.

Rear Window 1954

Rear Window [DVD] [1954] is surely one of the finest of Hitchcock’s films. The plot of the film could be best described using the following saying; ‘The Devil makes light work for idle hands.’ Photographer L.B. Jeffries AKA Jeff (James Stewart) finds himself at home as he has suffered a badly broken leg and is confined to a wheelchair. He is enduring a period of enforced sloth due to injury and to stave off his boredom he becomes a voyeur of his neighbours in the block of flats directly opposite. One night Jeff believes he witnesses the murder of Mrs Thorwald by her husband Lars Thorwald (a jewellery salesman). He hears a scream and later sees Lars suspiciously cleaning knives and hauling a heavy crate out of their apartment. A neighbour’s dog is then killed and Jeff is convinced that Lars has done this so that his wife’s body is not discovered…

The plot gets thicker and thicker all set off due to a period of enforced idleness caused by an injury. As we saw in the slothful literature post, sometimes sloth is not something that one chooses but their circumstances such as climate or injury may cause them to act or behave in a certain way. This film is amazingly shot, framed and edited and is definitely worth seeing if you have not already done so.

So this month, three different examples of sloth in films from different decades, can you think of any more? Let us know

‘Sloth’ in Gardening

‘Sloth’ manifests itself in a few ways in the world of gardening.

From the overgrown and untidy gardens, to zero maintenance concrete slab gardens and in a more abstract sense, this time of year (late summer), lends itself well to the theme of ‘sloth’.

As most of the plants have grown hugely and flowered in abundance, now plants are slowing down taking up nutrients for the autumn dieback and winter rest.

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Dove Cottage – Pictured at the end of summer

The late summer garden is in some ways the pinnacle of the growing season, with roses flowering profusely, bright buddleia blooms and ornamental grasses full of flair. Herbaceous perennials are in their prime.

A less desirable aspect of ‘sloth’ in gardening is of course the untidy/overgrown garden. This comes about when a lack of interest or desire to create an amazing outdoor space.

Back Garden
Overcrowded planting

“Tis an un-weeded garden that grows to seed” – Hamlet

It can be both quite reassuring and also rather daunting when moving into a place with an established garden, on one hand a nice outdoor space has been created, on the other without regular pruning and maintenance it can quickly become a bit of a jungle.

Many gardeners want to put their own stamp onto their new garden, and it always helps to have a clear plan and take into account what is already there and how much is going to be kept etc.

The final aspect of ‘sloth’ in the world of gardening are the zero maintenance concrete and block paved gardens.

While hard landscaping is both useful and attractive and ideal for making driveways, there can be ‘too much of a good thing’ as they say.

Its often best to incorporate paving within a garden whereby it serves a purpose and complements the garden well, as opposed to making the entire garden out of it.

The RHS has embarked on a campaign to ‘green Britain’s streets again’. They list the numerous benefits such as flooding reduction, pollution control and diminishing the heat island effect amongst numerous others.

Whilst many of us are living an increasingly busy and hectic lifestyle it is essential to not lose our connection to the natural world.

Sloth in History – a fulfilled life?

Sloth, or laziness, as it is better known, is something that has, and is still frowned upon by society today. Whether it be from early people who had to work the land to grow and harvest crops or even today, whereby hard-work is often seen as a marker of building a successful life, and laziness seen as the route of failure. These negative connotations of laziness through time suggest that it has no redeeming features. So it may be especially surprising to hear that some believed it to be the key to a more fulfilling life.

 In the time of the Ancient Greeks there was a philosopher called Diogenes. He argued that laziness was a virtue. He said that civilization and society had brought about harmful effects on people, such as toiling to fulfill a desire for material things, expressed through greed. Diogenes lived a much simpler existence. He was a homeless man, who possessed very little, but saw his life as much more fulfilling because of it. He would say that time on earth was too precious to be working hard just to acquire money for fleeting pleasures. Instead, he preached the values of enjoying the world for how it is, enjoying living in the moment, of being one with life. Diogenes ideas were quite influential at the time. So much so that the famous king Alexander the Great went to visit him and offered him anything in the world he wanted, to which Diogenes replied: “Stand aside as you are blocking the light”.

Diogenes Sculpture
Diogenes Sculpture

Diogenes example may be a little extreme. Indeed, I don’t think many people would enjoy life homeless! Yet, maybe his ideas do have some degree of wisdom to them. Perhaps it is a good thing for everyone to indulge from time to time in a little bit of laziness. With an ever increasing pace of life, indulging in a little bit of sloth may be good to give us a chance to sit back and reflect on our lives, and indeed help guide us lead more fulfilling ones.

Let us know what you think about sloth and whether you agree with Diogenes or not in the comment section below.

Slothful Literature

We originally anticipated that the theme of ‘sloth’ for August would be particularly apt as we were hoping for a hot summer where people slow down due to the weather. Sadly this has not been the case here at CLC HQ at all! We are therefore left with reading about hot summers of which book two in this post beautifully encapsulates. So here are three different examples of literature that in some way encompass the theme of ‘sloth.’

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

This is one of my favourite books and I have been waiting for a chance to write about it, so when the theme of Sloth arrived I thought it would be a perfect fit. In The Wind-Up Bird Chroniclewe follow the journey of Toru Okada, a recently unemployed man in Japan, with a memorable opening scene in which he is cooking spaghetti and listening to Rossini’s The Thieving Magpie. He has a phone conversation with his wife who asks him about whether he is happy being out of work and at home and if he has seen the cat which has gone missing… Straight away, we learn that this is no ordinary story and from what appears to be a mundane scenario at first becomes stranger and stranger. Toru is a curious character; he is the typical Murakami stock protagonist in that he is an outsider in his culture and a kind of drifter really. He gets caught up in things and instead of being a man of action he lets events lead him where they will. Where does Sloth fit in to this? From a Japanese salary man aesthetic, Toru would come across as slothful in his own mainstream culture, instead of working hard day to day he is a loner, a drifter, currently out of work and his wife is supporting him until he finds out what he really wants to do. While this may not come across badly in some cultures, in hard-working Japan, it would be seen as lazy and slothful. However, Murakami subverts this assumption and does make this character into something of a hero and I would definitely recommend that you read this book to find out why!

August Heat by Andrea Camilleri

August Heat (Inspector Montalbano Mysteries)is just one in the series of Inspector Montalbano stories that are excellent in both book and TV adaptation form. This story is pivotal in the series of Montalbano books for the change and development of Montalbano’s character (and escalation of his mid-life crisis). Sometimes the characters in a story are forced to act more slowly due to the intense conditions of the climate that they are faced with. In this case the searing heat of Sicily in August causes this case to be more slower paced than the other stories and seems to focus on fewer locations than normal. The main gist of this story concerns the renovation of a villa and a body of a teenage girl that is found in the cellar. It also includes a femme fatale and the searing heat that pervades every action of the protagonist. Though Montalbano is not a slothful character at all in general, this story is a good example of how extreme conditions of temperature can force humans to react differently to situations, therefore in the pace of the story this is more slothful than the other ones.

The Aunt and the Sluggard story and the Drones characters in the Jeeves stories by PG Wodehouse

Jeeves and Wooster stories are always good fun and what Wodehouse does so well is write humorously and enjoys making fun out of the rich and idle. Bertie Wooster does not have an occupation and in the 1920s and 30s Britain seems to enjoy living a life of leisure as do his other male friends most notably those that are members of the Private Club in London called ‘The Drones.’ The Drones is really a continuation of the public school system and Oxbridge colleges that these characters attended. What is clever is that in calling the club the drones, Wodehouse has made a direct reference to the slothful, idle nature of its members as drones are the laziest members of a beehive whose sole purpose is to mate with the Queen Bee to reproduce the next offspring of the hive. Unlike the busy worker bee, drones do not participate in nectar and pollen gathering, mending and building up the hive or rearing offspring. Scene in the drones club are often humorous with them playing cricket with bread rolls, moaning about trouble with relatives, often involving pressure to work or romantic issues. Although some of the drones do have occupations, the insinuation of the nature of the club and the privileged apathy that many of its members display is very apt indeed and seems to refer to the idle, slothful nature of these characters.

In the Aunt and the Sluggard story from Carry On, Jeeves: (Jeeves & Wooster)we discover Rockmetteller (Rocky) Todd (Bertie Wooster’s American friend) who is happy living a life of quiet idleness, writing poetry and living off his inheritance near a lake in Long Island. His Aunt Isabel who financially supports him wishes him to live a full life of partying and adventure in the bright lights of New York and to write about his escapades so that she may live vicariously through him. For Rocky however, the very thought of doing this is traumatic, but he knows that if he doesn’t then his inheritance may be cut off. What occurs is that Jeeves lives this life for him then writes about it and his Aunt is so enthralled by his accounts that she decides to visit New York herself and partake in this adventurous lifestyle, and this is where things get tricky! Rocky gets increasingly frustrated that his life of ease has been hijacked and Jeeves needs to come to the rescue to find a solution for all concerned.

So for this month, three different examples of slothfulness, if you have any others then contact us at the usual places.

August for Sloths

We have had a crazily busy month here at CLC headquarters! Therefore, some of the posts for our theme of the month ‘Sloth’ will be slightly delayed. Although it happened by chance, we do feel that Sloth is a rather apt theme for August when we should all be hot and tired lying about in the shade! This concludes our Seven Deadly Sins theme but we have some exciting news for September where a new series of themes will be announced and this strand will be slightly more esoteric!

We also have a wide variety of posts coming up, following Ross and Kyle’s recent holiday to Portugal where they took some interesting photos of local culture and fauna and visited some fascinating places. Summer has truly set in though it has been colder than usual at times.

I have been exploring upcoming late Summer and Autumn reads and of course the Man Booker Prize Longlist has been announced with the Shortlist to follow in September. I have also read Go Set a Watchman which I found to be really interesting and is worth reading if you’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition.

I have also been watching Outlander the TV series on Amazon Prime which after reading the first book in the series I have to say was really well done and worth watching if you are a fan of the book. (The image takes you to a free clip of the trailer). It has also made me curious to learn more about my own Scottish ancestry which I have on both sides of my family. I know a little about this for instances at least two generations were in the Black Watch but would like to learn more. Maybe some of my ancestors were in the Battle of Culloden? It will be fascinating to find out.

So stay tuned and more posts will appear for this month and look out for exciting developments into Autumn!