Monthly Archives: January 2019

Ahistoricism

I went into The Favourite like I do with many movies: knowing very little and having seen maybe a part of a trailer. I knew it was a period piece (duh) and there was a Queen in it (also: duh). Anyway, after watching the movie I read up on it on Wikipedia and found, to my immense surprise, that it was somewhat based on actual historical fact. It makes sense enough that I thought this movie was fabricated wholesale: there’s a Queen in power, nobles are vying for power, and England is at war with France; it’s the proverbial typical Tuesday. And yet, Queen Anne actually did have a pair of rival handmaidens, and many of the characters had their own Wikipedia articles detailing their real-life stories.

It was all quite fascinating, but, ultimately, also quite irrelevant.

Unlike many historical dramas dealing with heads of state, The Favourite is not terribly concerned with the major political movements of the time. Rather the focus is on Anne and the machinations of Abigail and Sarah that take place behind the scenes. There is some influence on the larger political landscape, but we see very little of life beyond the lush estate the action transpires in. Court life is ruthlessly savaged in this satire, the politicians reduced to overdressed men slathered with makeup in foppish wigs racing ducks.

Now, there is some criticism of The Favourite for playing fast and loose with history. Anne’s husband was still alive at the time all this drama went down, and the idea of there being lesbian liaisons between the Queen and her ladies-in-waiting is dismissed by some historians as nothing more than contemporary slander by the opposition. Despite being about real people and set against real events, The Favourite is an out and out lie.

Which is great, since the movie doesn’t purport to be anything but. There’s no fancy title card letting us know what century we’re in, there’s no real reference to the actual geopolitical situation at the time (let’s face it, England and France are at war in basically every period piece, and there’s always an opposition party). All the temporal trappings of the movie serve its central story and all the schemings therein.

The Favourite’s detachment from historical fact is what makes it all the more scathing. Since the exact time-period is indeterminate to the layperson (ie: me), I’m not gonna get caught up wondering about the exact details about the time and can instead happily get lost in the film. The world of The Favourite is the world the filmmakers want to use to tell their story. It is a world where men are useless and relegated to the background while the women with their plots and aspirations are far more important. We don’t need to care too much how accurate to the contemporary social mores it is, the way things happen is how they happen. It’s fantasy.

That’s the real pleasure of period pieces: they feel like another world with another set of rules and another life that’s very much not that of 2019. There’s a different set of rules, one that’s foreign yet familiar. Though the Queen may rule in The Favourite, some words in her ear from Abigail or Sarah can sway her mind. We go along with it because it makes enough sense not to break our suspicion of disbelief. Consider how most Westerns play fast and loose with reality, or the ersatz 80s-ness of Metal Gear Solid V; it doesn’t matter how accurate things are, so long as they feel real.

And so, despite its lack of historical accuracy, The Favourite really works so well because its world feels right and its characters real. For Anne, Abigail, and Sarah the world is deathly serious, and we buy in and get to enjoy the hijinks as they unfold.

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The Joy of Exploring

I continue to be endlessly fascinated by Breath of The Wild’s open world. Since the last time I talked about the game I’ve taken on one more Divine Beast, but I still spend so much of my time exploring Hyrule and trying to find everything.

Which of course makes me wonder why I find this wandering so satisfying. I have a completionist streak in me, a part of me that wants to finish everything. Get all the dang feathers in Assassin’s Creed II, unlock every character in LEGO Avengers, get the Platinum Trophy in Burnout Paradise. Open world games are thus a scary beast for me; sure, it’s fun to explore and stuff, but I also want to Do All The Things. I’m terrified of missing something, of there being some little nugget of fun that I glossed over.

In many ways, I’m very grateful for the map and its icons in Spider-Man. One glance and I know if there’s still stuff to do in any given neighborhood, I know if I’m missing anything. There’s a bit of a freeing feeling when you have that reassurance that you’ll be able to get to it later and there’s no harm in running up the Empire State Building again. Since it’s so clear what I ‘have’ to do in the game, the potential shenanigans are too.

Conversely, Breath of The Wild is absolutely taciturn with its goals. Sure, there’s a quest tracker, but beyond that you’re in the wind. The map is barebones, displaying only region names and the occasional marker for towns once you discover them. Those shrines and Korok scattered everywhere? Yeah, they’re only added after you find them. Massive monsters, treasure, and all those other little secrets will forever remain unmarked, unless you manually add a note to the map.

Hyrule is yours to explore, there’s very little in the way of guides to where things are or even how many of something there is (how many Shrines are there? I haven’t a darn clue). It’s kinda terrifying, there’s So Much to this world, and no way to know how much there is — unless I break out a guide or something.

Yet I’ve made peace with knowing that I might not be able to find Every Last Thing. Wandering Hyrule and discovering its secrets is fun enough in and of itself, plus there’s usually one of those Koroks hiding on the top of that really-hard-to-reach pillar. In Breath of The Wild I’m enjoying the journey.

Maybe this is because the Switch doesn’t have Trophies, and I know that it won’t make a difference if I’m missing one or two shrines in the run of it. I don’t have the pressure of a checklist of things to do while I play. Now, I do like Trophies; I like challenges to do on the side as I play the game. But the lack of them in Wild means I can really do whatever I want and not have some background concern that I’m not doing everything as it should be.

There’s also not really too much of an overbearing narrative in Breath of The Wild. Sure, there is the whole assemble the Divine Beasts and fight Ganon thing; but there’s little pressure beyond that. Link doesn’t say to himself “Hm, I oughta get to saving Hyrule.” In practice, doing whatever you want may as well be the story as it happens, and it’s so much better for that.

Hyrule is a world for you, as Link, to explore as you please. It’s baked into its DNA in a way that no number of expertly crafted side quests could ever muster.

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