The Motorcycle Diaries — Erasing Borders, a Journey of Discovery

Film:

The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004The Motorcycle Diaries Poster

Starring Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo De la Serna

Synopsis (From Netflix):

This film tells the incredible true story of a 23-year-old medical student from Argentina, Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), who motorcycled across South America with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) in 1951-52. The trek became a personal odyssey that ultimately crystallized the young man’s budding revolutionary beliefs. Walter Salles’s film is based on Che’s own diaries of the trip.

My Thoughts:

This is a film that is bursting with content and themes, and I could probably write a whole book on it (considering it was based on the diaries of both Ernesto and Alberto) however there are a few themes that run throughout this movie which I’d like to focus on- integrity, injustice, and erasing borders.

From the beginning of the film we could see that Ernesto “Che” Guevera had integrity.  This was exhibited by how hard it was for him to lie.  When he and Alberto lost their tent and they needed a place to stay they came across and old man who asked if they really were doctors, and if so could they examine him.  Ernesto did and it became clear that the man had a tumor.  Alberto wanted to play it off as something they could treat in exchange for room and board, but Ernesto knew this was a man’s life and health and had to tell the truth.

Ernesto was also given US$15 from his girlfriend in order to purchase a bathing suit.  Alberto would constantly harass him for the money which he held on to because of the promise he had made to her.  He knew that the money was not his, but merely in his possession.

“They who dwell within the tabernacle of God, and are established upon the seats of everlasting glory, will refuse, though they be dying of hunger, to stretch their hands and seize unlawfully the property of their neighbor, however vile and worthless he may be.”  ~Bahá’u’lláh

However as the film progressed, the two men were tested over and over as their motorcycle failed, as people turned on them for being Argentinian instead of from Chile, when Ernesto’s girlfriend married someone else, and as they witnessed injustice when meeting the impoverished.  A poignant moment transpired when the two men met an impoverished couple whose land had been taken away and were looking for work:

The Wife: Are you looking for work too?

Ernesto: No

The Wife: Then why are you traveling?

Ernesto: We are traveling to travel

The Wife: Well bless your travels

It was a strong moment because despite how hard this journey had been, with the crashes, and the snow, and the failing cycle, it was still voluntary.  Ernesto realized these were hard working people that were not traveling by choice, whereas he was a a med student taking off from med school to travel around.  We find out later that he ended up giving this couple the precious money, most likely because he realized he would never see his former girlfriend again.

When the men reach Peru they begin to see how unjustly the indigenous have been treated.  They stand at Machu Picchu and cannot believe that these people who could create such beauty and had such a powerful grasp of science and mathematics were overtaken by the Spanish by guns.  Alberto is so moved that he decides he should marry an indigenous and start an Indigenous Party to fight for their rights via a peaceful revolution.  Ernesto replies that a revolution without guns would never work, a sad moment for both the film and for the world as we can see how much revolutions with guns were also ineffective and painful throughout Latin American history (and history in general).

Their journey takes them to a leper colony and this is where the themes come together and Ernesto experiences the most growth.  This colony is literally divided by a river.  All the sick live on one side of the river, cast out by their families, and all the healthy people (the doctors, the nurses, the nuns, and other workers) on the other.  The rule is to wear gloves even though lepers in treatment are not contagious.  Ernesto and Alberto refuse to wear them and treat the lepers with dignity, as if they are people and not contagions.  It is this dignity that both men have learned to see in every human being on their journey.  It transcends national, ethnic, class, or social boundaries.  It is also why Ernesto chooses to swim across the river the night of his birthday, when the boats have stopped running.  He wants to celebrate with the lepers as well as the healthy.

“Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened.” ~Bahá’u’lláh

And Ernesto was onto something.  These borders we have put up (of country, of class, of whatever) are fake.  How do we erase the artificial borders?  How do we unite humanity?  Not through guns and violence which “Che” unfortunately tries to do later on, but through the actions he took during this film.  Through treating people with dignity, by respecting that we are all human and therefore of the same stock and should be listened to and honored.  By practicing the virtues of truthfulness and honesty in order to build trust.  By traveling and actually meeting other people and learning all the gifts they can share.  People in the film dismissed him as an idealist, and that is something Baha’is are also often labeled as, but these actions can have positive results and did in the lives of Alberto and Ernesto.

Your thoughts?

Advertisements

Vantage Point — An Exploration of Truth vs. Perception

Film:

Vantage Point, 2008
Starring Sigourney Weaver, Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, Zoe Saldana, and William Hurt.

Synopsis (From IMDB):

President Ashton (William Hurt) is attending a global war on terror summit in Spain. Thomas Barnes (Dennis Quaid) and Kent Taylor (Matthew Fox) are two of the Secret Service agents assigned to protect him. This is the first action that Agent Barnes has been in since he took a bullet for President Ashton six-month earlier. We really dont know if Agent Barnes is up to the challenge of protecting the President. Shortly after President Ashton is escorted to the stage in the plaza by the Secret Service, he is shot twice by a rifle from a window and falls to the floor. The crowd is in shock and chaos breaks out all over, especially when bombs begin to explode. Howard Lewis (Forest Whitaker) is an American video-taping the event to show to his children that he was actually there at this historic event. He believes that he has the picture of the man who shot the President. Agent Barnes sees the tape and has a clue to that person. Several different people witness the event, and only through their eyes do we see the truth behind the assassination attempt.

My Thoughts:

This film takes a unique narrative format in that it shows the same event through the perception of 8 different characters and through each new viewing of the incident the spectator comes closer to omniscience.  The first portrayal was from the GNN production truck in which we watched the producer keep track of the several cameras throughout the square.  I bring this up because it is the most distant of the views in that we are seeing the event transpire through a television screen (which it can be argued we are doing already so make it two television screens) and the people watching it have no control over what is happening.  From our limited perspective we can only see chaos.

With each retelling we are forced to re-evaluate what we saw in the previous vision, or what we (and the character) thought we saw.  From one perspective a swaying curtain looks like it could be a gunman, from another it’s just a fan blowing.  One character looks psychotic from the initial perspective but from another they are just trying to sound an alarm and warn of the oncoming violence.

We could walk away from this film thinking it was a good, fast-paced thriller, with a few unanswered plot points, but instead I think that this film is more than that.  It calls us to question what truth truly is.  We cannot believe our own eyes because our perception is limited by our “vantage point”.  We also only have the information of that moment, not always the information of what led to that moment.  It also shows that we are dependent on our perceptions and that when we are called to act fast we have to trust the only faculties we have.  We can’t just sit blindly and depend on others for our sight.

In our own lives how frequently have we seen something “fishy” and judged people because of it?  While people do make mistakes and sometimes have negative motivations (this film was about terrorism after all) I think that our perception isn’t just hindered or limited in those times of crisis, but every day.  God (whether or not you believe) is the only one capable of omniscience, and it is important to realize that if only to remind us to be humble when dealing with our perceptions.

We must investigate truth from more than just our own limited view of reality, and if we confuse what we see, or our own perception for “Truth” then we are bound to compound our mistakes.  We also need to forgive others for actions they take which we do not understand, and remind ourselves that they too our acting on incomplete information from their limited perspectives.

“There have issued, from His mighty Pen, various teachings for the prevention of war, and these have been scattered far and wide.
The first is the independent investigation of truth; for blind imitation of the past will stunt the mind. But once every soul inquireth into truth, society will be freed from the darkness of continually repeating the past.”
~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

If anything this film reminds us to take pause and to realize that truth is greater than our own bubble, our own incomplete slice of reality.  Even these words I am using can only adequately but not exactly describe the concepts I am trying to convey because concepts our so much more complex than we can ever explain.  Instead we have to make do with what we have- our narrow point of view, our incomplete command of language, our lack of precision- and remind ourselves to collect as much information as we can before judging a situation lest our judgments be misinformed and wrong.  And regarding the ideas of judgment and justice I leave you with two quotes from the Hidden Words which address both sides of this issues- the importance of Justice and yet our limitations when trying to pass judgment:

O SON OF SPIRIT! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes.


O SON OF BEING! How couldst thou forget thine own faults and busy thyself with the faults of others? Whoso doeth this is accursed of Me.

~Bahá’u’lláh

Your thoughts?

National Treasure: Book of Secrets — The Great Search

Film:

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, 2007

Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Dianne Kruger, Ed Harris, Jon Voight, and Helen Mirren.

Synopsis (From NetFlix):

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) — who found riches and romance at the end of their first hunt for national treasure — reteam with their wisecracking partner in crime, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), for another romp through U.S. history. Now, armed with a stack of long-lost pages from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, Ben is obsessed with finding the truth behind President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

My Thoughts (There be spoilers this way):

While this film is what you would expect from a big budget sequel to a knock-off of the Davinci code, because the main characters are heroes with a sense of mission and purpose there is actually a lot one can analyze about their choices and the virtues they exhibit, as well as the vices held by the ‘bad guys’.  I am going to ignore all the historical inconsistencies and anachronisms because this is a work of fiction after all, and focus on the metaphor and motivation behind the characters actions.

First off, Ben Gates is motivated to investigate the truth.  He wants to clear his great-great-grandfather’s name from being alleged a Lincoln Assassignation Co-conspiritor with John Wilkes Booth.  Even though in the end of the film a great cultural treasure is found that is not the motivation of Gates’ search.

There are many people throughout their lives who exhibit this quality of ‘seeking’ which the Gates family portrays.  We seek enlightenment, we seek belonging, we seek knowledge, we seek happiness.  Some people are more easily contented than others, and perhaps are not driven by this need to ‘find’ whatever it is they are driven to search for.  In Persia there is actually a famous story of Majnun (the name means crazy) who searches everywhere for his Beloved Layli.  Bahá’u’lláh counsels that:

” One must judge of search by the standard of the Majnún of Love. It is related that one day they came upon Majnún sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, “What doest thou?” He said, “I seek for Laylí.” They cried, “Alas for thee! Laylí is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!” He said, “I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her.” Yea, although to the wise it be shameful to seek the Lord of Lords in the dust, yet this betokeneth intense ardor in searching. “Whoso seeketh out a thing with zeal shall find it.” ”

I think the Gates’ purity of motive (to validate the truth) and follow wherever it leads (to Paris, London, The Library of Congress, or Mount Rushmore) is what enables them to find what they are looking for in the end.  The writers and producers may not have consciously intended the film to exhibit spiritual consequences, but in order to make a hero act like a hero he has to have those virtues praised for in the religious and philosophical texts that have shaped our world.  When Gates’ and crew actually find the City of Gold in the underground caves of the Black Hills of South Dakota, there are many tests of this purity.

At first there does not seem to be any gold, but just stone carvings in a large cavern.  Gates’, and his mother & father, are curiously trying to investigate, while Riley, Abigail, and Wilkinson (the ‘bad guy’ played by Ed Harris) are distracted by the only gold idol in the whole place.  As they approach it the floor shifts and they are propelled through a trap door into a potential pit of death.

“He is My true follower who, if he come to a valley of pure gold, will pass straight through it aloof as a cloud, and will neither turn back, nor pause.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Because the Gates’ Family had purity of motive they hadn’t fallen for the trap, whereas Wilkinson did not, and both Riley and Abigail were temporarily seduced by potential fame and fortune.  Luckily for them Ben Gates’ jumped into the trap with them in order to be of service.  He was willing to endure hardship in order to protect his friends and even his rival.

At this point they all land on a giant square slab.  They soon discover that this slab is balanced on a pinacle and that they must cooperate to balance otherwise they could all fall to their deaths.  Again another moral lesson. Cooperation is necessary in order to survive.

They soon find a ladder that is out of reach, and in order to reach it, they must manipulate the slab to tilt like a see-saw, at great risk to whomever is on the bottom end.  Wilkinson, realizing he is outnumbered and fearful of retribution, threatens everyones life by messing up the balance, insisting he must go first.  They heroes let him, and Ben, realizing that the math works out that somebody has to stay behind, offers to sacrifice himself so that the others will live.

Abigail won’t accept this, and instead finds a giant gold pillar and throws it onto the slab to counterbalance Ben’s weight so that he too can reach the ladder.  This gold pillar was probably worth millions, but Abigail didn’t give it a second thought learning her lesson about value.  By practicing the virtue of detachment she is able to reciprocate and save Ben’s life.

Detachment comes back later when the heroes, the bad guy, and the parents reunite in a drained, underwater palace.  There is no way out except by following where the water drains.  Ben’s father Patrick, without missing a beat, throws some dollar bills into the water to watch where the current takes them.  Sure, you may argue that to save your life you would be detached from riches too, but I think the lack of hesitation is admirable in both the case of the pillar and the money.  The heroes didn’t even pause long enough for the audience to realize what they were throwing away, indicating how purely they were driven by doing right by each other.

In the end, Ben again wants to sacrifice himself to save the others, but through freak circumstances Wilkinson is left in the position to make the sacrifice.  He laments that after all this he will not be able to get the recognition of discovering this massive archeological wonder and treasure city.  Ben assures him that he will tell the world, and does, despite the fact that Wilkinson tried to sully his great-great-grandfathers name.  Again, this shows Ben’s commitment to the truth.  Without Wilkinson’s help they would not have been able to find this place, and though Wilkinson was misguided (he could have just asked Gates to help him instead of motivating him by slandering his family name) he too made the right choice in the end.

Our hero had his flaws, and learned from his partners that his confidence was bordering on arrogance, and that he left others behind when he was mentally steps ahead of them in solving puzzles, but in the end he exhibited a pure commitment to the truth, and a realization of the downfalls of the ego, as well as the importance of cooperation, trust, persistence.

This may have seemed like a popcorn flick on the outside, but with open eyes I think it is not a stretch to see the moral choices and struggles these characters had to go through as well as to think about how we all can exhibit these qualities we revere in our heroes.

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? — Interracial Marriage

Film:

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? 1967

Starring Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn.

Synopsis:

The movie concerns Joanna Drayton, a young white American woman (Houghton) and a man with whom she’s had a whirlwind romance, Dr. Prentice (Poitier), an African American she met while on a holiday in Hawaii. As the movie opens, they’re at the San Francisco Airport preparing to tell her parents, Matt (Tracy) and Christine (Hepburn)Dayton their plans: to marry and live in Switzerland.

Kramer and Rose intentionally debunked ethnic stereotypes; the young doctor was purposely created idealistically perfect so that the only possible objection to his marrying Joanna would be his race, or the fact she only met him nine days earlier. He has graduated from a top school, begun innovative medical initiatives in Africa, refused to have premarital sex with his fiancée despite her request, and leaves money on his future father-in-law’s desk in payment for a long distance phone call he has made.

The plot is centered on Joanna’s return to her liberal upper class home overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Her mother, while surprised, is supportive from the beginning, but her father isn’t buying the marriage. He is joined in his concerns by the family retainer Tillie (Sanford) and the young Doctor’s father (Glenn), a retired postal worker who flies up to Los Angeles for dinner.

The action builds to a stirring speech by the father, the last by Tracy on film.

My Thoughts:

Forty years after it came out this movie may seem dated.  So much so that Hollywood felt it necessary to loosely remake it with Ashton Kutcher (I love you Ashton, but you are no Sidney Poitier). But upon the heels of the recent US Presidential Election I think its important to reflect on how far we’ve come regarding race relations and how much further we have to go.  I’m not the first who has seen the similarities between the characters in this film and the parentage of the US President-Elect.  For more on that check out this NY Times article.

Even at the time of the film one might be more concerned with the speed of the marriage (having only known each other ten days and needing an answer that night before they fly off to NYC and then to Geneva) then the race difference, but let’s factor that out and just chalk it up as a plot device to get the action going.  There were some interesting remarks throughout the film that I think particularly important to note upon.  The first was said by Dr. Prentice (played by Sidney Poitier) regarding why he fell in love with Joanna.

Dr. Prentice “It’s not that our color difference doesn’t matter to her, it’s that there is no difference to her”

I think this is an important quote to piece apart, because there are different levels to it.  On a fundamental level there is no difference among us because we are all God’s creatures and are all endowed with spiritual capacity, and so every person should be able to befriend anyone and talk with anyone and connect with anyone because of that inherent unity of us all being people.  That being said, we do have differences, and those differences should not be erased.  They are what make us beautiful. I think the following quote illustrates the thought well:

“Let us look rather at the beauty in diversity, the beauty of harmony, and learn a lesson from the vegetable creation. If you behold a garden in which all the plants were the same as to form, color and perfume, it would not seem beautiful to you at all, but, rather, monotonous and dull. The garden which is pleasing to the eye and which makes the heart glad, is the garden in which are growing side by side flowers of every hue, form and perfume, and the joyous contrast of color is what makes for charm and beauty.

…”The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in making the perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different colored roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.”

~ ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 52-3.

I want to add that this quote was from the early 1900s.  We cannot diminish our differences, nor can we ignore the fact of the history of pain and suffering caused by different races and ethnicities fighting or oppressing one another.  Nor can we pretend that it is not still happening today.  That being said if we want to change the world, if we want to improve it and to heal these wounds between us, to truly unite humanity then it begins through the actions of people like Joanna Drayton and John Prentice who celebrate their love for one another and the diversity of their backgrounds.  Blame will just keep us apart, but we individuals can work to be open minded and to treat all people with love and respect.

This film, in addition to being about an interracial couple, is about a family whose ideals are being tested.  The parents, Matt and Christina Drayton (played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) are San Francisco liberals who raised their daughter to believe in the equality of races and yet it had never occurred to them that their daughter would actually want to marry someone of a different race.  Then it was time to reflect and each hesitated before confirming their ideals.

I think this happens to us all at some time in our lives.  It is easy to espouse an ideal in words, when it is a theory, something that applies to society in general, rather than to ourselves in specific.  It is easy to say we will care for our fellow man, but how many people still go hungry?  It is easy to say what we believe, but what about acting on what we believe?  In this film first Joanna, and then her mother, and finally her father decided to take the step toward action on their beliefs, an action which was easy and natural for Joanna but a bigger challenge for Matt than he would have thought.

This film, as part of the plot, Dr. Prentice required the Draytons to give consent in order for him to marry Joanna.  In this modern day many people balk at the idea of children asking for their parents’ consent to marry, and even in the film Mrs. Drayton seemed confused by it.  But I think Dr. Prentice had a good point.  It would be hard enough for the couple to deal with the prejudices of society and the pressures of the ignorant, to then also have to deal with the disunity in the family.  In order to be strong enough to deal with the challenges of an interracial marriage at that time they needed to have the support of their family for peace of mind as well as a haven to return to in times of stress.  Asking for consent was a way to build unity in the family, a pre-requisite to building unity in society.

Those are just a few of my thoughts.  What are yours?

Girl, Interrupted — Reality, Insanity, and The Prison of Self

Film:

Girl, Interrupted 1999

Starring Winona Rider, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall, Brittany Murphy, Jared Leto, Vanessa Redgrave, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

Susanna is rushed to the hospital. Afterwards she discusses this with a psychiatrist. She had been having some delusions. She had also been having an affair with the husband of her parents’ friend. The doctor suggests that combining a bottle of aspirin and a bottle of vodka was a suicide attempt. This she denies. He recommends a short period of rest at Claymoore. Claymoore is a private mental hospital full of noisy, crazy people. Georgina is a pathological liar. Polly has been badly scarred by fire. Daisy won’t eat in the presence of other people. Lisa is a sociopath, the biggest exasperation for the staff – like Nurse Valerie – and the biggest influence on the other girls in the hospital. Lisa has a history of escapes, so gaining access to personal medical files is not a problem… Susanna’s boyfriend Toby is concerned that she seems too comfortable living with her institutionalized friends… Written by David Woodfield


My Thoughts:
There is so much I could potentially write about this film, a film that tackles the nature of reality, of what is insanity, and of how we perceive difference, so I am going to scale back a bit and focus on two conversations in the film that I thought were particularly interesting and which could lead to fruitful discussion.

The first is a conversation Susanna (the main character, played by Winona Ryder) has with her therapist Dr. Wycke (played by Vanessa Redgrave) about half way through the film.  The conversation begins when Susanna, off-handedly says that “ambivalent” is her word of the moment.  Dr. Wycke picks up on this and asks her if she knows what it means.  Susanna replied “I don’t know” and when Dr. Wycke comments that its odd that she doesn’t know the meaning of her word of the moment, Susanna says that was the definition, clearly confusing ambivalence with apathy. Dr. Wycke corrects her by defining the word.  The conversation continues thus:

Dr. Wycke: The word suggests that you are torn between two opposing courses of action…”
Susanna (filling in the blanks): Will I stay or will I go?
Dr. Wycke: Am I sane or am I crazy?
Susanna: Those aren’t courses of action
Dr. Wycke: They can be dear… for some

Here Dr. Wycke points out the importance of action.  We can conceive insanity as a state of being, or something someone is, but here Dr. Wycke challenges us to think of it as something someone does.  If you are “sane” you act a certain way, you follow society’s norms and morays.  If you are “crazy” your actions are different, erratic.  Others judge you by your actions.  Because in reality, your thoughts could be all over the place.  You could think whatever you wanted, the “craziest” thoughts, thoughts inexplicable, indescribable, or even scary but if these thoughts didn’t effect your actions nobody would know.  This sentiment is echoed later in the film when Susanna has a conversation with a male friend.  He explains that he knew someone who saw purple people and was institutionalized.

Random guy: Time went by and he told them he didn’t see purple people no more.
Susanna: He got better.
Random guy: No, he still sees them.

The “insane” purple people seeing guy learned to not let his thoughts (his view of reality which conflicted with society’s) effect his actions any longer and so the institution deemed him insane.  Sanity and insanity, after all, are relative terms.  They are dependent on one another for their existence, and throughout the film Susanna struggles with figuring out what insanity is, and if she is insane.  This may be why she was classified “borderline”.  She was able to choose what actions to take, she was on the border and could choose which path to go down.

And she is not the only one.  We are all on the border every day.  Maybe not between sanity and insanity, but definitely between right and wrong, between action and inaction.  We have to choose to get out of bed, we have to choose to do the right thing, we have to choose to step up.

Susanna learns this though tragedy.  She and Lisa, self-proclaimed sociopath and “lifer” (played by Angelina Jolie), have escaped the mental institution and visit a released girl, Daisy, (played by Brittany Murphy).  Lisa gets a rise out of Daisy by playing on her insecurities and saying some pretty awful things, while Susanna just lies there with a pillow over her head, letting it happen.  That night Daisy hangs herself, and in the morning Susanna finds her.  She breaks down and voluntarily returns to the Institution.  When Nurse Valerie (played by Whoopi Goldberg) comes in to comfort her, Susanna asserts “I couldn’t stand up to her.  A decent person would’ve done something, shut her up, gone upstairs, talked to Daisy.”  It is this turning point that allows Susanna to take control of her life and her choices.

Bahá’u’lláh counsels us to “Let deeds not words be your adorning.” It is important to take action, and to have our deeds match our words, to have our actions match what we say we value, which Susanna learned, or else we can be prisoners of ourselves.  Which brings me to my second theme, the nature of imprisonment.  Susanna entered the institution voluntarily but was not allowed to leave when she wanted to.  She acts out because of this, misbehaving, not owning up to the fact that it was her choices- her behaviors, her level of engagement in therapy, her (in)ability to control her moods without medication – that were keeping her in that physical prison.

Later on, when she looks at Lisa, someone who has been institutionalized for 8 years, and most likely will spend her life breaking out and returning to the place, she realizes that even outside Susanna is imprisoned by herself, and has limited herself to be this destructive, seemingly uncaring person.  And I think this is something we all can learn from.  We all imprison ourselves through our expectations of ourselves.  If we think we can’t do something it will be a lot harder to do that thing.  And I am not talking about the grand metaphors, like climbing Mt. Everest or becoming President.  I mean the everyday things, like if we don’t think we can forgive something, than we take away our choice to be able to.   We imprison ourselves to hold onto painful grudges.  Or if we do not think we can be on time, “It’s just my nature to be tardy”, then it will be a lot harder to take actions to correct that behavior.

I think it takes a lot of insight to realize that we are our greatest prisons.  That an institution can’t have the power, even if we are in it, that we have over ourselves. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, who was imprisoned by the Ottomans for most of his life, said that “Unless one accepts dire vicissitudes, he will not attain. To me prison is freedom, troubles rest me, death is life, and to be despised is honour. Therefore, I was happy all that time in prison. When one is released from the prison of self, that is indeed release, for that is the greater prison. When this release takes place, then one cannot be outwardly imprisoned. When they put my feet in stocks, I would say to the guard, `You cannot imprison me, for here I have light and air and bread and water. There will come a time when my body will be in the ground, and I shall have neither light nor air nor food nor water, but even then I shall not be imprisoned.’ The afflictions which come to humanity sometimes tend to centre the consciousness upon the limitations, and this is a veritable prison. Release comes by making of the will a Door through which the confirmations of the Spirit come.”

And Bahá’u’lláh challenges us to “Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more.”


Your thoughts?

Mean Girls — The Tongue is a Smoldering Fire

Film:Mean Girls Movie Poster

Mean Girls, 2004

Starring Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and Tina Fey

Synopsis (from IMDB):

Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) has just returned to the United States with her parents after growing up in Africa. Cady is a teenager, who has been home schooled her whole life. Her first day in class as the new girl will be her first encounter with the public school system. As the new girl, where will she fit in? Cady first makes friends with two geeks (Daniel Franzese and Lizzy Caplan). Then she makes friends with the most popular and beautiful girls in the school, known as `The Plastics’ (Lacey Chabert, Rachel McAdams, and Amanda Seyfried). Cady wants to fit in and now she has friends from two different worlds. To keep them as friends she must do things she has never done before, such as being deceitful, scheming, and finally untrustworthy. She discovers who her real friends are in the end. Douglas Young (the-movie-guy)

My Thoughts:

Mean Girls is a case study in the importance of trustworthiness and loyalty, as well as a warning against the ills of gossip, backbiting, and vanity.  Instead of being preachy, it approaches these topics through the lens of Teen Comedy, showing us the problems these vices can cause.  However, don’t be fooled by it’s glitzy and amusing nature, this film is tackling some heavy issues that all teens, and in fact all people have to struggle with throughout their lives.  And through “coming of age” we can gain some wisdom as to what the more important things are in our lives, but the challenge of gossip by no means ends when you walk out that door with a diploma, and the politics of high school can quickly become the politics of one’s life if left unchecked.   I think that is why the Spiritual Leaders of World, have given us councils, in order to help us navigate these tumultuous waters.  One quote that I find supremely fitting is:

“That seeker must, at all times, put his trust in God, must renounce the peoples of the earth, must detach himself from the world of dust, and cleave unto Him Who is the Lord of Lords. He must neverseek to exalt himself above any one, must wash away from the tablet of his heart every trace of pride and vain-glory, must cling unto patience and resignation, observe silence and refrain from idle talk. For the tongue is a smoldering fire, and excess of speech a deadly poison. Material fire consumeth the body, whereas the fire of the tongue devoureth both heart and soul. The force of the former lasteth but for a time, whilst the effects of the latter endureth a century.”  ~ Bahá’u’lláh

However you can find similar councils in the words of Jesus or Mohammed, as well as in the writings of modern spiritual leaders like the Dalai Lama or Gandhi.  The point is that we all are aware how powerful words can be.  The “tongue” is a weapon, and when those words are recorded (whether on paper, or in the hearts of the people who heard them) they are hard to erase.  It is this power that may have inspired Edward Bulwer-Lytton to coin the maxim “The pen is mightier than the sword”.   This is why I find it so appropriate that in the film the cliche’s insult journal was called a “burn book” as that’s exactly what it did.  Think back to high school and I am sure that there was probably some one who said something that sticks with you today, that may still sting.   If we can take anything away from this film, it is that we should all try to be more careful before we try to “burn” someone.  It the heat of the moment it might seem like what we want to do, but it could cause a scar that lasts a life time. Instead we should all just try to be a little kinder, and a little more compassionate.

Or karma could do it’s thing, and you could be hit by a bus.