Üç maymun (Three Monkeys) (2008)

My postman stuck the Turkish movie Three Monkeys into my mailbox just as I was leaving for the unemployment office. While down there looking for work, I asked some of the others in my line why a country on the other side of the world would be named after a big ugly edible bird like that? Most of them told me that the bird was in fact named after the country, not the other way around, because Turkey is where the bird came from. Benjamin Franklin wanted to designate the turkey as our national bird, imagining, I suppose, the turkey to be an indigenous fowl. The first edition of his Poor Richard’s Almanac featured an eight-page spread on meleagris gallopavo and its habits, habits which he took to be worthy of emulation by an entire nation and which he strove to imitate, in certain particulars, with several of his more intimate associations while abroad in Paris acting as a representative of our fledgling government, to the vast amusement of the French. Please don’t write me about this, not if you already lit me up for my review of “Prodromos Oikonomopoulos,” which dealt with the question of Greece vs Grease.

Three Monkeys arrives as a Cannes prize-winner for its director and an Oscar candidate for best foreign film, and tells a story with the message, Don’t accept a jolt in prison as a stand-in for your boss just to make a buck, not if you’re leaving behind a “restless” wife and a son who needs your strong hand in order to keep him from getting drunk and beaten to within an inch of his life out on the streets of Istanbul. This tale is burdened in Three Monkeys with no more plot than that which you might find powering a Superbowl commercial; no more plot, that is, than that in a music video. At first, there appears to be a plot – as when it appears that you’ve happened upon an archaeopteryx in your backyard when you find a couple of its bones and get all excited, but then realize that the whole lizard-bird isn’t there, just two drumsticks and a wishbone, which probably came from KFC – so that your dreams of opening a museum in your garage dissipate in the same way as the plot of this movie, the director having a couple of ideas and his male lead in the movie, Yavuz Bingöl, lauding him later in interviews for his fantastic editing job, whereas in truth a story of some sort is there but the plot has gone missing, or never was. Turkish prison? there is more prison in one episode of Arrested Development than in all of Three Monkeys; in other words, for example, the wife does not come to prison and press her bared self against the glass of the interview room for the benefit of her husband (although later, be warned Christian viewers, she does something similar). If you want plot, go hence. Contrariwise, do you meditate? Do you sit staring at the bubbles rising through the lighted but fish-empty water of the 3x3x1 aquarium in your rumpus room? Are you depressed, finding it difficult to move, so that you sit immobile for long periods of time on your divan? If so, you will find the pace of Three Monkeys in accord with your life vibe. How long can one hundred minutes seem? That depends upon whether you are holding your breath or sinking into an REM sleep state. You can walk out of a museum after you’ve seen enough, and go back later for more: with that in mind, I watched Three Monkeys in ten ten-minute sittings, as episodes. Ten minutes of carefully made cinematic art onscreen seemed just about right for me, the audience in my viewing area. At the end of each episode I wanted more; I never felt restless; I appreciated the photography without getting tired of it, although every once in a while I found myself wanting a voiceover, such as “These walls were built in 1581 by Suleyman Egrip” or “The Argo sailed on the historic water that you see before you 3,000 years ago, bearing Jason on his quest to find the Golden Fleece.” Years ago, when I went exploring local urbanscapes with my daughter, helping her break in her new used cameras, back in the day of film and the home darkroom, we always ended up in weedy backlots, on streets lined with ramshackle rundown buildings, industrial landscapes, the interesting rather than the beautiful. Nuri Ceylan, the director of Three Monkeys, is a photographer first, with an interest in the interesting. Istanbul has been accumulating interesting for two thousand years. Ceylan is also an auteur, which means that you’ll sit through his long takes and like it. In Three Monkeys, the family’s livingroom window looks down upon the Bosphorous, where ply myriad tankers and freighters. You know you’re experiencing a long take when you find yourself looking away from the immobile faces of the actors to check on the progress of the boats in the water, which are not, to put it mildly, in any hurry. Please don’t write me about long takes, not after my piece on Antonioni and how he was only kidding.

A reminder of the difference between plot and story, courtesy of E.M. Forester: The king died and then the queen died: story. The king died and then the queen died of grief: plot. That is, a story is a series of events; a plot is a series of events presented so as to provide you with theme, emotion, and drama. Three Monkeys presents a series of events; theme, emotion, and drama are left in the hands of the actors’ facial muscles (mixed metaphor or just weird?). According to Bingöl, Ceylan chose the final story from among various possibilities via his edits; one presumes that actions and motivations are somehow connected, so that changing actions will change motivations, but that isn’t a problem if mum’s the word dialogwise.

Homework: watch any random movie of the 30s or 40s and notice how there is a lot of plot.

Screenwriting 101: Foreshadowing. “You’ve got to pass those university exams this time.” “OK.” Two pages later in the script: “So, you failed the exams.” One page after that: boy arrives home beaten bloody. It’s what happens when you don’t pass the university exams.

At the end of ’08, the top ten grossing films in Turkey, to the amazement of many, were all Turkish. This has not happened in some time. Meanwhile, American films in Turkey took it on the chin. As a result, new production money has begun flowing back into the Turkish film industry. The top ten were all action and comedy movies. As in the U.S., the majority of Turkish moviegoers view moviegoing as a species of entertainment, as opposed to an artistic activity such as eyeballing the Mona Lisa. The entertainment factor in Three Monkies requires that you be entertained by the oblique, the elliptical, the tickling of your arty bone not your funny bone. What does it mean to watch a movie that is a real downer anyway? Why do we do it? Is it entertainment or an artistic enterprise or both? Ceylan’s films are “low-grossing” because of the bone that they tickle and the bone that they don’t. His “Distant,” also a competitor at Cannes, was seen by less than 00.3% of the Turkish population. He couldn’t sell Three Monkeys to Turkish TV – too slow. Turkey has a young, go-go consumer economy, coupled with a crippled intelligentsia. After a 1980 military coup, tens of thousands of leftists were imprisoned, tortured, sometimes murdered. Intellectuals were forced underground and the country hasn’t fully recovered yet. But humanistic-moviely speaking, Turkey’s serious films are beginning to share some of the weight we’ve seen in Iranian cinema lately. So Three Monkeys isn’t going to show up in your corner metroplex anytime soon – we’ll discuss movies vis a vis the U.S. intelligentsia in a later review. Presumably, Ceylan’s successes on the festival circuit and with critics worldwide will translate into future production money for himself, and with Three Monkeys he does take a step in the direction of the commercial with the movie’s plot, such as it is, and with his decision to use professional actors.

By the way, expect no humor in this review! I won’t chortle over the pain and suffering and misbehaving and just plain general agonization of the characters in this movie. The anger. The death. The brow-knitting. Played out on a foundation of diegetic sound – birdsong, thunder, passing trains, clocks ticking, snoring – and gorgeous, fastidious and photographically photographical photography, so that squalid life will be experienced as an ironic* expression of the ineffable beauty of the universe, objectified in and around Istanbul and instantiated in the mom, dad, and son as portrayed by the three (professional) lead actors. No, no smilin. And what happened to Ceylan’s vaunted humor? “I do see humor in even the most tragic situations. I think humor is always the brother of tragedy or sad things; and I think that with humor, tragedy becomes more convincing.” So why the Droopy Dan in Three Monkeys? Mr. Gloomy Gus. My theory: Ceylan is 49, at the bottom of the U-shaped curve of happiness. You won’t find a director over 60 making a movie like this. Gloom, not unwonted for Ceylan, but sans smiles, unwontedly hangs on his idea of a plot here. Could there be a little Orhan Pamuk-envy involved in this, Ceylan’s fifth movie?

*Turks/Irony: How does Turkish culture deal with/relate to irony? Unfortunately, googling “turks irony” gets you numberless hits re turks/kurds, turks/armenians, turks/iranians, turks in germany, theyoungturks (U.S. anti-Bushites). Lots to be ironic about if you’re a Turk, in the context of Asia Minor, but we learn nothing about the irony of being a Turk at home in the Turk’s own living room, with garbage barges passing out beyond the window. (Did I mention the fabulous weirdness of that apartment house, by the tracks, by the shore?)

Anyway, what I’m getting at is, are you familiar with the U curve of happiness? You start out happy in life and, statistically speaking, become increasingly unhappy until you reach your late forties. Thereafter, you begin to grow happy again over the years, assuming that you don’t die in the meantime. Applying this phenomenom of human development to filmmakers, we might expect to see them produce their least-happy films at the bottom of their individual U’s. Ceylan was 47-48 when he turned off lugubrious with Three Monkeys. Coincidence? I don’t think so. “You put all the dark, bad sides of yourself into the films, and so you get rid of them – or at least control them in a better way.” Hope it worked!

Following up on this thought with a couple of our greatest directors:

Kurosawa at 46 makes “Donzoko” – “His picture of several dreary people thrown together in what appears to be an urban slum or flophouse… Without moving out of the one room for the first hour and a half of the film and then going no further from it than the shabby courtyard outside, he puts his actors through a series of snarling and whining colloquies that express their despair, humiliation, anger, frustration, and grief.” (Bosley Crowther, NYT)

Stanley Kubrick at 47 makes “Strangelove.” Humans as fools, plus the end of the world.

Howard Hawks in his mid-forties – WWII. The Big One. I guess that whatever movies Hawks made or didn’t make during this period just didn’t amount to a hill of beans compared with the world’s death-struggle at the time.

Ingmar Bergman at 47 makes “The Silence” – “After a prolonged, convulsive attack, Esther implores God to allow her to die in her own homeland. In the end, she is left to die, alone and suffering, in a strange land: unanswered prayers by an absent God.” (Acquarello)

Please don’t write to me about the U curve of happiness, not after my last Sidney Lumet prediction.

Perhaps because Ceylan features the downbeat here, coupled with a dark and distinctive cinematography, the “noir” and “neo-noir” words have been bandied about. We’ve got to put a stop to this before “noir” becomes a word as useless as “awesome.” Noir films are typically crime dramas or psychological thrillers. The plot of a noir movie is complicated, ambiguous, with twists and turns. Noir characters are conflicted antiheros, trapped in situations that force them to make desperate or nihilistic choices. Noir characters can’t resist temptation. Three Monkeys isn’t a crime drama, although crimes are committed. It isn’t a thriller; making us wait for angry, gloomy, cogitating family members to snap and run amok, or not, doesn’t qualify the movie as a thriller, more as a nervouser. Three Monkeys has a plot easily fit into a TV Guide capsule description – not so twisty. An envelope stuffed with money shows up, a noir totem, but goes nowhere. Family members in Three Monkeys may be conflicted, but they aren’t antiheroes, they’re common folk, and they aren’t forced to make many choices, they’re free to drift into the bad decisions that Ceylan has ready for them, dramaturgulated to keep the ball rolling. There are character flaws in each family member that might lead to ruin, but in Three Monkeys there seem to be psychological counterweights in operation as well. Noir characters find themselves in hopeless situations; the mom, dad, and son here aren’t happy, but their situation is by no means hopeless. I myself happened to perceive a little hope at the end of the movie. Call me crazy, but show me a final shot in which a man is one inch high, silhouetted black against a stormy sky, before a distant sea, surrounded by, enveloped by windy gray nature, and for me there is something of hope strong in the image. Ceylan grew up in a tough, fightful multifamily setting and he emerged in one piece, as may these characters, who draw on his past. Note that Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller were not noir playwrights. Note that noir visuals include in-you-face light and shadow; Ceylan uses light, shadow, and every other tool in the photographer’s toolbox, in all sorts of digital HD ways. The femme fatales in noir would never contemplate suicide, like mom does here. Femme fatales play the hero for a sucker. You’ll never see them crazed, agonized, and making a complete fool of themselves in the particular way that mom does here, mom who isn’t cruel, just dishonest and dissatisfied. And no magical realism in noir. No Garcia Marquez moments. No imagined scenes followed by, oops, real ones. Ok, enough about that.

My general theory has been that gloom increases the amount of dialog in a film, but Three Monkeys is a study to the contrary. Ceylan is known not only for slow, but also for taciturn. I’ve written before about directors who avoid dialog, so I won’t go there again. And I won’t go there to “go there” again. Ceylan makes a veritable tone poem of a movie here, cinematographically and diegetically speaking, immaculate, but he turns his back on dialog, especially after the 80th minute. He can write questions but he doesn’t write answers. Is this because he trusts himself and the D.P. behind the lens, but does not trust himself as a writer (he writes the dialog with other family members). Is there something ironic about a moviemaker who specializes in closeups focusing on the expressiveness of the human face and then leaves us to interpret the results as we choose, while the characters go wordless? Films that rely on sight more than sound are often ambiguous, but here we go beyond ambiguity. How would I know what these characters are thinking? They’re Turks. I don’t even know what my spouse is thinking and she’s 100% USA American. I mean, I know what she’s thinking when steam comes out of her ears, but I’m talking about when she’s staring-off-into-space here. I’m talking about when she calls me a moron. Well, maybe then I know. But in Three Monkeys, we’ve got a family of inhabitants of a country with, as I’ve said, the name of a bird. This isn’t my brother Frank. At least let Ceylan write dialog like “I look angry because, being Turkish, I am operating under a rather different social imperative than the one with which you Americans are familiar.” Even I could do that. Sure, I can guess what any character is thinking, even Natetodamax, but in fact, any action that an actor takes will perforce be consistent with the fact that, having kept his or her mouth shut, any action is now possible. “Turks are generally practical people, but they have difficulty in putting this into action. We combine German business discipline with the practical Turkish mind.” Oh, well, that’s OK then. Example: at the 8 minute mark, the boss asks his driver to take a fall for him. The driver behind his mustache stares off this way and then that way, no expression, and finally, when prompted by his boss or by Ceylan offcamera, I forget which, says, “OK. No problem.” So is there Turkish stuff I need to know here? Is there machismo at work? Management/worker labor issues? Genetic fallout from the conquering Turks of yore? Translation tweaks from a non-Indoeuropean language? The Koran?

Ceylan’s excuse, at least a couple of years ago: “I don’t believe in words. In general, people lie, they don’t tell the truth. The truth lies in what’s hidden, in what’s not told. Reality lies in the unspoken part of our lives. If you try to talk about your problems, it’s not that convincing. People try to protect themselves; everybody has something they want to hide. They try to hide their weak side. When they tell you a story, they make themselves the hero of that story. So without words is better, and it allows the spectator to be more active; he should use his own experience.” Uh huh. My boss asked me to confess to making a pot of African CongoBlaze Superforce Coffee in the No-Caff pot. At first I said No! but then, so that the boss could solve the case and look good, I said yes in exchange for her commemoration mug from the ’03 Sales event in La Brea. A critic’s take: “This film paints a haunting portrait of existential solitude, one in which the images speak louder and often more forcefully than do any of the words. Mr. Ceylan doesn’t write speeches or flatter the audience by offering us more information than he gives his character. His scenes play out to the natural rhythms of life.” Uh huh. Even silent movies had the title cards with info on them like “I’m thinking that I should smack her.” Chaplin was silent but he wasn’t slow. He did not spend a lot of time staring off into space so that we could appreciate the composition of his shots in the meantime. Oh, hell, maybe I’ll just write this review without any further dialog. If Ceylan can do it, so can I.

“Never happen.”

“No, I can do it.”

“You dope.”

“Aw, nuts.”

Alright, alright. I’ve hired my friend Maurice, who does a great Shakespeare imitation, to go visit Ceylan and sit him down in front of King Lear. Ceylan, you use sound, you use pictures, now write the damn dialog or hire somebody who can.

Can you imagine Bergman saying, “I’ve decided to stop writing dialog because nobody ever tells the truth?” The fact is, writer-directors write the scripts that they are capable of writing, neither more nor less.

Don’t write me about this, not after the feedback I got when they published that dialog of mine about Life, Death, and the Human Condition between a box of Cheerios and a box of Kix.

And actually, Ceylan isn’t really so bad. His characters do talk to each other. They do ask questions, raise issues. They argue. They shout. They do tell us what’s on their minds. At least, for the first 80 minutes, and after that there is enough emotion floating around to keep us informed by osmosis. Ceylan is never as wordless as some of the 6th-generation Chinese directors, like Xiaoshuai Wang and Lou Ye.

Ceylan dialog that would not be heard in a Hollywood movie: “You paid 5 billion lire for this car?! I was in jail for nine months and didn’t spent 900 million the whole time!”

Ironic moment in the movie with respect to this theme: a man seems to be talking but his lips don’t move. Anti-antidialog.

Having dealt with the slow, the silent, and the gloom – maybe to excess, when in fact a sentence on each would have sufficed, since the heart of the movie is somewhere else – let us now celebrate the principle reason that this movie won Ceylan the director’s prize at Cannes – its cinematography by Gökhan Tiryaki. An extended shot of a car driving away through the woods at night, which opens the film, by itself might be worth the price of admission. Ditto some of the best, if not the best, skyscapes I’ve seen in a movie. I live where there isn’t much sky and where there isn’t much going on in what sky there is. For me, there can’t be too much sky in a film. Ditto too much Bosphorus. Ships riding on the same water as the Greeks on their way to Troy (more or less) and the Persians on their way to Greece (more or less). Ditto trains and their tracks, decrepit apartment buildings, rotting concrete in Istanbul. Ditto uncomfortable attempts at sex in a small room, a heckava mosque, and father-and-son mustaches. The digital world of color, light, and shadow impossible to obtain with traditional film. Differential focusing. Surprising camera angles. Plus, I used to collect coke bottles; now I collect foreign movies that have coke bottles in them, like this one; and speaking of bottles, what better sign that the world is going completely to hell than that plastic water bottles, the ultimate in pollution, are to be seen everywhere, from the Turkish countryside to the magical island of Lost, which can move but can’t shake off its plastic bottles. Regarding cinematography, sound, and plot, Ceylan has been accused of overdetermining. Overdetermining is when the dad’s words are followed by a thunderclap or when we see a montage that includes a train entering a tunnel, a rocket lifting off, and a sprinkler suddenly spurting (a montage from Naked Gun, but you get the idea). A couple of times I did wonder if and when the temptation to employ more and more digital editing to achieve photographic effects might overwhelm this director. Some of his shots are such that, if you don’t happen to be in a charitable mood, they might strike you as goofy. I’m thinking of that argument scene from fifty yards away, for example; made me imagine that the two actors were tying up the 7th green with me looking on and waiting impatiently to play through.

Ceylan said that he would use professional actors for this movie. The mom, Hatice Aslan, has done a lot of work in TV; the male leads were both born in Istanbul, but Aslan is from Sivas, high on the Anatolian plateau, a town/city that has been around since before the Hittites and is the primary source of Kangal dogs. “Beyond Kayadibi the country dogs were the largest and most savage of any I had met. In theory you are entitled to defend yourself against them, even to the point of killing; but in practice may not do so, except at great subsequent personal risk.” (1917) The dogs defend their flocks against wolves and jackals, but I digress. The dad in the movie, Yavuz Bingöl, is better known as a musician: “Acting and music, these are not fields which necessarily nourish one another. I am more at ease when making music and am not that comfortable as an actor, although I guess I could say I picked up acting pretty quickly. I never felt like I had to get special lessons on acting or go to any acting school; I just act while trying to feel the actual characters I‘m playing… Actually we had worked with a few alternatives in Three Monkeys, so I really had no idea what sort of film would emerge in the end… It is a film full of surprises. It can make viewers perceive all sorts of different things ” Translation: “Hey! Ceylan managed to cut together a story that made sense of all that.”

Actor’s note: a thick black mustache can be a big help, especially when you’re grabbing your wife by the hair in bed. Homework: compare Sam Elliot’s movies, made with and without the stache.

Acting Excercize 101: You’re sitting in a chair with your purse on your lap. Your cellphone rings in your purse. The phone is playing a love song with ironic lyrics. You must fumble for the phone, trying to extract it from your purse, for the length of time required for the first verse of the song to complete, but not the chorus. During this time, you must register embarrassment, confusion, resignation, suprise, etc., because the phone is interrupting your important conversation with someone. Mercifully, the camera turns away from you for the last half of this exercise, so that only the frantic sounds of your rummaging will be heard. Note: the purse will not be large. Later in the movie it will take your hubby about 10 seconds to do the same thing.

Acting Exercise 102: You’re sitting on a bench in a train station, dressed up. You’re staring off into space. You look concerned. The audience tries to figure out what you’re thinking. Look more concerned. Now look more concerned. When you’re absolutely sure that you’ve got the audience’s attention, vomit.

Acting Exercise 103: Stare off into space without smoking. Hey, where’s the cigarettes? This is Turkey. Turkish tobacco? Camels? Hello? No cigarettes, as mom, dad, and son hang out down by the water. No smokes at the Turkish wedding. We get a glimpse of the son with a butt in his fingers at minute 49, two brief moments of puffing by the dad, and then the dad, finally, smokes a fag at the very end of the movie. Turkey passed a no-smoking-in-bars-and-restaurants law at the start of ’08; did that have something to do with this, or is Ceylan just a health nut? A valuable prop tool has been ripped from the fingers of his actors.

Critics who were watching a different movie: “The script is right up Will Shakespeare’s alley.” “Astute psychological insights.” “A subtly-twisty yarn.”

Finally, the monkeys.

There are no monkies in this movie.

The three monkeys? Hear No, See No, Speak No? What happened to Act No and Think No? What do the three monkies mean, anyway? There are folks who collect these monkeys. Do they know what the monkies are supposed to signify, or do they just have a monkey jones? There is a market for these monkeys. Is there a three-monkies carving in your crazy uncle’s footlocker down there in the basement? Got a three-monkeys statue, cup, or commode up in your attic? There is no scene in the movie in which the three protagonists sit side-by-side in the three-monkey pose, so don’t wait for that. (“monkies” = 32 million hits; “monkeys” = 38 million hits.)

Three-monkey explanations:

1. The monkeys remind us not to be snoopy, nosy, or gossipy.

2. The monkies are associated with Vadjra, who commands us to stay away from places where immoral acts are taking place. If we do not hear, see, or speak evil, we will be spared evil. If we aren’t exposed to evil, we will not reflect that evil in our own speech and actions.

3. The phrase describes someone who doesn’t want to get involved, turning a blind eye to the immorality of an act in which they are involved.

In an interview, Yavuz Bingöl goes for #3: “This three-monkeys rule is at play around the world in human relations. It seems to have taken root in people in the sense that there is a What’s-it-to-me? mentality ruling over people. In fact, I believe this mentality is one which is reflected in human relations or imposed on people as a result of capitalism. Faced with wars, natural disasters, and various crises, people continue to play the role of the three monkies. But actually, we are all passengers on the same ship, and this ship is sinking.” Strange words coming from the guy who, as the dad in the movie, lays on the “What’s-it-to-me? What’s-it-to-me! I’ll-show-you-what’s-it-to-mother-freaking-me!” throughout the film.

Those film critics who have addressed the monkey question seem in general to interpret the title in a similar sense: “A film that’s driven less by action and active decisions than by the hope that consequences will somehow just fade away.” Where did this notion come from? The fact is, Ceylan advances the story by having mom, dad, and son ask, answer, confess, react from start to finish. A Turkish speaker once told me that Turkish word order is opposite to that of English. Does that inversion extend to the meaning of movie titles? Some evil is spoke; some is not spoke. Some evil is heard; some is not heard. Some evil is seen; some is not seen. There is a keyhole scene. The See No chimp glues his eye to it? (Regarding inversion: the principal protagonist in this film is named Eyüp. The co-writer of the film is Ebru. Three Monkeys spelled backwards is Eerht Syeknom. Just sayin.)

Mom, dad, and son don’t want to get involved? I’m guessing that the actors were left to devise their own motivations. There isn’t much motivational narrative on offer in the dialog. Ceylan’s material tends to be autobiographical; perhaps he wasn’t sure of the motivations of his own family members either. But I see no turning of the blind eye here. Since this is a dialog-lite movie, it’s the No Thinkin monkey that you’d expect to get the biggest workout, but no, mom, dad, and son never seem to stop thinkin, from start to finish. You know how when somebody drinks throughout a movie, you want to go have a drink afterwards? Or when somebody eats noodles throughout a movie, you want to go eat noodles afterwards? When this movie concluded, I wanted to go somewhere dark and think till I sweat.

The point being, the mom, dad, and son at times do not speak evil, but at other times do speak evil. At times, they look away from evil but at other times they look at it. They seek it out. They hear it and sometimes react and sometimes refuse to react. So which type of monkies are they supposed to be? The moment the dad gets out of prison, he’s asking about the money, he’s visiting the grave of his dead son with his living son and policing the area, he’s asking pointed questions about his wife and her behavior. Dad imagines mom about to jump, doesn’t stop her. Sees her about to jump, stops her. This does not fit the ignore-it monkey template. The son goes out and gets beat up. He embezzles his dad’s money. He does worse. He does not ignore his mom’s behavior. Hears the bedsprings of evil. Here comes the smell of evil: cigarette smoke in the bedroom of a woman who doesn’t smoke.

Or are mom, dad, and son each one particular monkey? The son would be, let’s see, he sees and speaks evil; doesn’t hear evil? The mom speaks and hears evil and doesn’t speak it? The dad hears and speaks evil, never sees it? Seems like a stretch.

Another possibility: the three monkeys are represented by the three men in the mom’s life. If that’s the case, we’re going with monkeys qua monkies.

Or is Ceylan’s point that the three should behave like the monkies but don’t? No, because they do monkey-act in crucial ways. The movie is referred to as a “family secrets” drama, but neither dad nor mom nor the son seem to have any secrets from each other, not with a house full of those keyholes and bedroom and bathroom doors with frosted windows in them, something I haven’t seen before. Plus all that thinkin the three of them do. Or is it that they keep secrets from everybody else but not from each other – do these three monkeys actually get together when we’re not looking and let it all hang out?. Mom, dad, and son do take action; all three attempt to change their circumstances. For father and son, family, above all, comes first. For the mom, not so clear. But they all take action.

Spare me the mumbo jumbo about this family’s lack of moral grounding and how it’s a comment on the greater society.

The mom’s clinging to her affair? This comes right out of the blue. Foreshadowing exercise: have a character look intense and troubled and then have him or her go ahead and do anything that your plot requires. “Troubled” can translate to any action, so that’s OK.

Suppose that you title a movie “The Golden Rule.” What does that suggest? That everybody breaks the Rule and suffers? Or breaks it and ironically prospers? Or follows it? Or that it’s about Krugerrands or suchlike?

Instead of “Three Monkeys,” how about “A Ruminant, a Stoat, and a Young Hyena”?

I don’t mind trying to figure out what it all means if I believe that it all means something in the first place. There is forgiveness here, that I know. It’s obscured but in the end, for me at least, the film opens onto the future.

Don’t write to me about this, not after my exegesis on The Three Stooges vs The Holy Trinity.

In the end, let’s give Ceylan the last word: “I think we do it in life, also, many times — every one of us. We play three monkeys.”

In this movie, Ceylan does not go full monkey.

If you liked Three Monkeys, you might also like “Yol” (1982), a Turkish film about rural Kurdish life.

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