Why shouldn’t subtitlers—who generate the specific words and sentences through which many of us come to know many of the films we watch—be held more accountable for the creative choices they make? If, say, Carl Dreyer’s Ordet, a talky film in which characters make nuanced, complicated arguments in a language (Danish) many American moviegoers don’t understand, appears on DVD with one subtitle track and screens at a repertory theater with a second one, why not treat the two versions as variants separated by important, maybe decisive differences? It might seem obvious that Dreyer admirers would benefit from comparing two—or three, or four—English renderings of the film, much like English-language readers compare translations of Dostoevsky or Proust. But lingering on a film’s subtitles involves entering a contentious debate over what can be done to movies in order to equip them for international export—what affronts to a movie’s purity translators should be permitted to make.
Coleridge’s albatross, Poe’s raven, Hitchcock’s homicidal flock and Iñárritu’s costumed Birdman: Birds act as figures of prophecy, manifestations of trauma, voices of the superego. Above all, they are signs of trouble to come, or trouble already arrived.
In Max Porter’s first novel, “Grief Is the Thing With Feathers,” the bird in question takes the form of a metafictional crow, a reference to Ted Hughes that winds its way through this brief novel. However, there is nothing indirect about the tragedy Porter stages: the sudden death of a wife and mother, and the grief of the husband and sons she left behind. Much of the novel takes place within a domestic sphere both occupied and diminished by loss, run by a father functioning as a “machine-like architect of routines for small children with no Mum.”
I am proud of being a mother. I love my two children. I love them so much that it hurts to look at them and I am pretty sure they are the best, smartest, scrappiest, funniest boys in the world, and having them changed my life. My life before children was selfish and bland, all feelings and no grit, just a drifting miasma of mood. To go back to living like that seems like hell. I get annoyed when women’s magazines try to edit my motherhood out of my work. I get depressed when they won’t run a piece unless I take out any mention of my having children. I firmly believe that having children has made me smarter and better and more interesting, and fuck you to any women’s mag that doesn’t think so too.
And yet, I am profoundly unfree.