The Wedding Dress (TV) — Hope and Expectations

Film:The Wedding Dress DVD Cover

The Wedding Dress (TV), 2001

Starring Neil Patrick Harris, Tyne Daly, Margaret Collin, and Kathryne Dora Brown.

Synopsis (From NetFlix):

A beautiful wedding dress moves throughout the six degrees of separation when it ends up in the hands of six different brides-to-be and changes their lives forever in ways they could never have expected. Tyne Daly and Neil Patrick Harris (television’s “Doogie Howser”) star in a romantic drama that’s perfect for Valentine’s Day … or any day.

My Thoughts (The first half is spoiler free and I give fair warning when it changes):

The first thing I would like to talk about is prejudice and expectations.  When I got this movie off Amazon as a gag gift for my sister (who loves Neil Patrick Harris) I did not expect to actually like it.   It’s a made-for-TV movie after all!  And a schmalzy looking one at that!  But I was wrong.  This movie is amazing, and wonderful, and touching, and fully deserving of a second viewing.  I highly recommend it and luckily it is available through NetFlix (or my sister if you know her and she’s willing to lend it to you).

I may sound tongue in cheek, but this actually is a big lesson for me.  Prejudice can be destructive and I could have easily never watched this beautiful film because of mine.  We often speak of the big prejudices like racism and sexism and xenophobism, but I think the little prejudices can creep up on us all and keep us from both fully enjoying life and from creating a more perfect and unified world.  Prejudice can keep us from thinking we have something to learn.

“For a period of six thousand years history informs us about the world of humanity. During these six thousand years the world of humanity has not been free from war, strife, murder and bloodthirstiness. In every period war has been waged in one country or another, and that war was due to either religious prejudice, racial prejudice, political prejudice or patriotic prejudice. It has, therefore, been ascertained and proved that all prejudices are destructive of the human edifice.”   ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Ok, so that quote was about the big prejudices, but the last line says “all prejudices are destructive”.  I rest my case, now onto the actual movie.

::Spoilers may leak out beyond this point::

The film begins with letters written between a soldier and his fiancee during World War II.  She finds out he is being sent home soon and wants to marry her the moment he arrives so her family makes her a wedding dress.  She dons it on the expected day but unfortunately a messenger arrives instead bestowing tragic news.  The no-longer-bride-to-be places the dress in a trunk, but not before blessing it to help a woman find the happiness in marriage she was unable to.

Yes, that takes place in less than five minutes and already I was in tears.  However it also made me think.  This woman had all the reason in the world to curse God and the world for breaking her heart, yet she was able to practice grace and to wish happiness on others despite tragedy.  I can understand why the soldier fell in love with her.  That really is a character trait many aspire to in times of crisis, though we all can fall short.

After this we are transported to present day.  Travis Cleveland (Neil Patrick Harris), A grand-nephew is about to get married and would like his bride to wear the dress.  However she would rather wear some trendy designer thing than the outdated period dress with history and love sown in.  (Ironically the dress pictured on the cover is the trendy thing… oh marketers…)  While the dress itself is important to Travis, what is more important is the discovery of his future bride’s dishonesty, materialism, and vanity.   Not only was she not willing to wear the dress, which could have been overlooked (especially since brides can be stressed out and want things to be perfect) but she lied about it and in the argument that followed even bigger lies were revealed.

Again a lesson for us all to ponder.  We may think “It’s just a silly dress” but through it character was revealed.  How often does this happen in life?  Something seemingly insignificant shows to us or the world our true character.  And I don’t just mean negatively, but positively too.  People exhibit detachment, or ego, generosity or dishonesty over “small” things everyday.  Much like my earlier aside on prejudice, we can learn a lot from these smaller acts.

Luckily for us viewers we do not have just one or two stories to learn from, but six!  And all of them deal with learning and growth as well as love.  But not the typical “hollywood” love, all glitter and no substance, but love proved through deeds.  One couple endeavors to make ends meet through sacrifice and hard work, both putting the other first albeit comically.  Another couple struggles as the future husband learns to become responsible in order to win the heart of his bride who is skeptical that he does not know how serious marriage is.  In a third story a widower and a divorcee learn about second chances, overcoming grief and anger, and learning to trust again.  In another a feud is set right when two people learn to overcome their differences and forgive one another.

There is neither time to go into each of these stories, nor would I want to ruin them but I would like to say that this is a wonderful movie to view when thinking about preparing for marriage.  While it seems to be about the dress, it’s what’s underneath that counts. It is the interactions of the characters, and the virtues they exhibit and develop throughout their trials.  Patience, steadfastness, flexibility, hardwork, forgiveness, loyalty, resilience, fellowship, and love… I could put this film in every category!

So do yourself a favor and watch this movie!  It’s heartwarming and perfect for Valentine’s Day or the New Year when you want to travel through 6 journeys of love.

“Be to each other as heavenly lovers and divine beloved ones dwelling in a paradise of love. Build your nest on the leafy branches of the tree of love. Soar into the clear atmosphere of love. Sail upon the shore less sea of love. Walk in the eternal rose garden of love. Bathe in the shining rays of the sun of love. Be firm and steadfast in the path of love. Perfume your nostrils with the fragrance from the flowers of love. Attune your ears to the soul-entrancing melodies of love. Let your aims be as generous as the banquets of love, and your words as a string of white pearls from the ocean of love. Drink deeply of the elixir of love, so that you may live continually in the reality of Divine love.” ~Abdu’l-Baha

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P.S. I Love You — Life, Death, and Marriage

Film:P.S. I Love You Poster

P.S. I Love You, 2007

Starring Hilary Swank, Gerard Butler, Lisa Kudrow, Gina Gershon, James Marsters, Kathy Bates, Harry Connick Jr., Nellie McKay, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.

Synopsis (From IMDB):

Holly Kennedy is beautiful, smart and married to the love of her life – a passionate, funny, and impetuous Irishman named Gerry. So when Gerry’s life is taken by an illness, it takes the life out of Holly. The only one who can help her is the person who is no longer there. Nobody knows Holly better than Gerry. So it’s a good thing he planned ahead. Before he died, Gerry wrote Holly a series of letters that will guide her, not only through her grief, but in rediscovering herself. The first message arrives on Holly’s 30th birthday in the form of a cake, and to her utter shock, a tape recording from Gerry, who proceeds to tell her to get out and “celebrate herself”. In the weeks and months that follow, more letters from Gerry are delivered in surprising ways, each sending her on a new adventure and each signing off in the same way; P.S. I Love You. Holly’s mother and best friends begin to worry that Gerry’s letters are keeping Holly tied to the past, but in fact, each letter is pushing her further into a new future. With Gerry’s words as her guide, Holly embarks on a journey of rediscovery in a story about marriage, friendship and how a love so strong can turn the finality of death into a new beginning for life.

My Thoughts:

So often in film weddings we hear the lines echoed “until death do us part” but in both P.S. I Love You as well as in the Baha’i concept of marriage this is not the case.  A true marriage is more than a physical union but is also a spiritual union.  If a marriage is not a spiritual union then it is bound to end, which I discussed in my last post.  But what if it is a true union?  It lasts for eternity, beyond death.

In Holly and Gerry’s case he made sure to love her and guide her beyond death through preparation of recordings, letters, and gifts throughout Holly’s year of mourning.  Throughout the film in the beginning Holly feels is presence as if he is still there, then gradually that fades to memories, until finally Gerry is no longer seen.  This could be because Gerry’s soul must move on…
Know thou of a truth that the soul, after its separation from the body, will continue to progress until it attaineth the presence of God” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

However, how valid is Holly’s experience? She felt that in addition to the explicit signs Gerry had prepared to be sent to her via intermediaries, there were other signs more subtle that were from beyond. We have all heard tales or perhaps experienced ourselves whether dreaming or waking the presence of loved ones who have passed on.

While we cannot understand fully death and life, there is a wonderful metaphor that has helped me when thinking about it. A baby in a womb is both in this world and not in this world at the same time. We can feel it kick through its mother’s skin, and can talk to it, yet the connection is tenuous at best. Perhaps this world is like our giant womb, and then loved ones who have passed on to it able to sing to us, and touch us indirectly as easily as we can an unborn child. Perhaps this is also why we struggle in this world, to prepare for the next.

You ask an explanation of what happens to us after we leave this world: This is a question which none of the Prophets have ever answered in detail, for the very simple reason that you cannot convert to a person’s mind something entirely different from everything they have ever experienced. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá gave the wonderful example of the relation of this life to the next life being like the child in the womb; it develops eyes, ears, hands, feet, a tongue, and yet it has nothing to see or hear, it cannot walk or grasp things or speak; all these faculties it is developing for this world. If you tried to explain to an embryo what this world is like could never understand- but it understands when it is born, and its faculties can be used. So we cannot picture our state in the next world. All we know is that our consciousness, our personality, endures in some new state, and that that world is as much better than this one as this one is better than the dark womb of our mother was…

(On behalf of the Guardian, Lights of Guidance, p. 208-209)

Films like this help us all process grieving and allow for contemplation over life, death, and marriage.  Holly and Gerry’s marriage was not perfect, but they were willing to sacrifice for one another and truly did love each other.

Your thoughts?

The Women — Infidelity, Gossip, and Backbiting

Film:The Women Movie Poster/DVD Cover

The Women, 1939

Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Fontaine

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

George Cukor directs an all-female cast in this catty tale about battling and bonding that was edgy for its time — and is considered the ultimate women’s movie of the 1930s. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and other Hollywood leading ladies are among the array of husband-snatchers, snitches and lovelorn ladies who argue and gossip about each other at astonishing breakneck speed throughout the film.

My Thoughts (NO spoilers 🙂 ):

I’ve received some critiques regarding the length of my posts, so I am going to try to be brief and get to the ethical punch with this post and cut out the plot points and summary that could ruin it for those who haven’t seen the movie.  All plot issues I do discuss stem from what is seen in the first 5 minutes so do not worry.  I haven’t seen the remake, though I’d like to when it comes out on DVD, but I’m told that most of it is the same, except the ending due to the changes in US divorce law since 1939.

The first thing one would notice in this film is the fact that it is all women… 130 of them… and not a single male!  Even the animals in the movie are the female of the species.  Pretty cool.  That is, until you realize that none of these women are of exemplary character (except maybe Mary and her daughter).

From the very beginning gossip and backbiting are a huge theme of the film, and it is through witnessing how pervasive it is with this crowd that we can see just how damaging these behaviors are.  There was so much buzz around Mean Girls regarding this, but “frenemies” are nothing new.  It makes the following Hidden Word all the much more understandable:

O FRIEND! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, and from the nightingale of affection and desire loosen not thy hold. Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly.

It does not say to condemn or judge the ungodly, but merely warns against interacting with them, and this film surely echoes that.  Mary already had a heartbreaking issue to deal with, her husband’s infidelity, but this was compounded exponentially by The Women she interacted with.  While the problem would not have disappeared without the wagging tongues, it certainly would not have been magnified.  Mary would only have to deal with her husband’s betrayal, not the betrayal of her social companions, as well as their judgments and scorn.

O SON OF MAN! Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

a.k.a. Don’t judge lest ye be judged…

Even Mary succumbs to the behavior of her peers but it really just serves to amplify others pain rather than to ameliorate her own.

Another issue in the film is how some of the characters treat marriage and love.  For Mary marriage was about love, but for many others it was about economics and financial security, or about a status symbol.  For some it was even a game, about what could be taken away from other women.  That vindictiveness serves nobody.  As for Stephen, though we never see him, we know he also confused lust for love in his interactions with Crystal.  Physical and spiritual love are two separate things, and unfortunately in English we are limited by the catch all term “love” that has so many meanings.

Marriage, among the mass of the people, is a physical bond, and this union can only be temporary, since it is foredoomed to a physical separation at the close.

Among the people of Bahá, however, marriage must be a union of the body and of the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamoured of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based both on the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation.

~ `Abdu’l-Bahá

So what should we take away from the film?  That we need to be better than that, especially us women.  Even though it was Stephen who was unfaithful, the entire emphasis of the film was on the women.  Blame needs to be put where it is due, which is not simply on the “other woman” but on the man who made the choice to betray his marriage vows.
Also, our behavior, even if it seems like it is behind closed doors, is observed and commented on.  While each of us can and should control our own tongues, we cannot control the tongues of other people which is why our comportment is all the more important.  Mary learned this lesson when she succumbed to ill behavior, which was what the gossipers were waiting for.  It is hard to be held to such a high standard, but people notice both the good and the bad.  In fact, it was because Mary was so happy that Sylvia took so much delight in dismantling it in the first place.  That being said just because others are devious does not mean we shouldn’t strive to transcend that.

Your thoughts?

Dolores Claiborne — Prejudice, Justice, Truth, and Forgiveness

Film:Dolores Claiborne Poster

Dolores Claiborne, 1995

Starring Kathy Bates, Jennifer Jason Leigh, David Strathairn, Christopher Plummer, John C. Reilly, and Judy Parfit.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

Dolores Claiborne works as a maid for a wealthy woman in remote Maine. When she is indicted for the elderly woman’s murder, Dolores’ daughter Selena returns from New York, where she has become a big-shot reporter. In the course of working out the details of what has happened, as well as some shady questions from the past and Selina’s troubled childhood, many difficult truths are revealed about their family’s domestic strife. This is cleverly portrayed with present reality shot in cool blue tones blending seamlessly into flashbacks shot in vivid color. As small town justice relentlessly grinds forward, surprises lie in store for the viewers

My Thoughts (SPOILERS!!):

I had seen this movie when it first came out years ago, but just recently caught it again on HBO.  Since that time I have doubled in age and gained some perspective.  See this movie, if you haven’t, because it’s really quite good.  Stephen King wrote the part with Kathy Bates in mind after her stunning performance in Misery (1990).

This film challenges our perceptions and our thoughts of what justice is.  It opens on an event that we can only hear but not fully see.  Two women are arguing and then we see one fall down the stairs (we’ll discover later to be Vera), before the other soon runs after her (Dolores).  She proceeds to run frantically to the kitchen in search of a weapon only to return with a rolling pin held high above her head.  But she can’t do it, she stands there mustering the strength, the will, but can’t do it.  Vera (Judy Parfit) passes on, and the door is opened by the mailman who spots Dolores (Kathy Bates).

This is the inciting incident, the incident that begins the inquest, the incident that colors our perception of who Dolores is and what she’s done, and the incident that drags Dolores’ daughter Selena (Jennifer Jason Leigh) back to Maine from New York City after 15 years away.

But is it the truth?  Was it a crime?

Through out the film we will eventually find the answers to these questions, or at least a broader perspective in which to come to our own conclusions, but not before finding out a lot more about Dolores Claiborne and Selena St. George.  And no, the name difference is not arbitrary, it is representative of the conflict between them that has kept them apart for so long.

“Is it possible for one member of a family to be subjected to the utmost misery and to abject poverty and for the rest of the family to be comfortable? It is impossible unless those members of the family be senseless, atrophied, inhospitable, unkind.” ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Nearly two decades before Dolores was involved in another incident, which was ruled an accident, though the chief investigator (Christopher Plummer) was sure was murder: the death of her husband (David Strathairn).  Dolores husband was no prince.  He was an abusive drunk.  Selena, however, does not remember him that way.  She remembers the good, and only that Dolores was somehow involved in his death and therefore responsible for destroying the family.  Since then Selena has had a nervous breakdown and is on several medications, none of which seem to be keeping her fully stable.

But is this the truth?  Was it Dolores who destroyed the family?

“In order to find truth we must give up our prejudices, our own small trivial notions; an open receptive mind is essential. If our chalice is full of self, there is no room in it for the water of life. The fact that we imagine ourselves to be right and everybody else wrong is the greatest of all obstacles in the path towards unity, and unity is essential if we would reach Truth, for Truth is one.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Dolores had worked hard for Vera Donovan for a long long time.  She started at $40 a week and eventually was making $80 a week as a live-in maid/nurse.  Yes, a whole whopping $0.20 an hour.  It was hard labor and Vera was a demanding boss, so why did Dolores stay?  Initially to make money to pay for Selena to go to college.  Over time she had saved over $3,000.

She put up with Joe’s abuse for a while, but soon it became too much and she fought back.  Joe had been sneaky though, never abusing her in front of Selena, but Dolores, defensive not sly, was caught by Selena having hit back, Joe’s face bloody.  Selena, having only seen the end of the fight, thought Dolores was crazy, much like how the mailman must have in the first scene we saw.

Dolores became more crazy when Selena’s grades started dropping and she was getting moody and depressed.  Selena was going through puberty and there must have been a boy involved.  Except it wasn’t a boy, it was a man, it was Joe.

Dolores went straight to the bank to get the money she’d been saving so that she could take Selena and leave.  Except the money was gone.  Turns out Joe had found out about it and because it was a custodial account and he was the other parent, was able to access it.

Dolores: It’s because I’m a woman ain’t it?  If it had been the other way around, if I had been the one passing out the ferry story, how I’d lost a passbook and asked for a new one… if I had been the one drawing out what took 11 years to put in… you would’ve called Joe.

This scene is indicative of the sexism in society, back then and now, just as the domestic abuse was and continues to be a problem not just in America but world wide.

“And among the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh is the equality of women and men. The world of humanity has two wings—one is women and the other men. Not until both wings are equally developed can the bird fly. Should one wing remain weak, flight is impossible.” ~ Abdu’l-Bahá

It is in this context, broken and alone, fearing the safety of her daughter and without the means to protect her, that Dolores falls apart in Vera’s living room.  It is the first time her guard is let down in the entire movie and her vulnerability is exposed.  It also is when her shift in personality from well-behaved and hard working, to bitchy and bitter takes shape.  Vera councils her:

Vera Donovan: Husbands die every day, Dolores. Why… one is probably dying right now while you’re sitting here weeping. They die… and leave their wives their money. I should know, shouldn’t I? Sometimes they’re driving home from their mistress’ aparment and their brakes suddenly fail.

Vera Donovan: It’s a depressingly masculine world, Dolores.

Vera Donovan: Sometimes you have to be a high-riding bitch to survive. Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto.

So we see how Dolores could be driven to do what she did to her husband, but what exactly did she do?  She supplied him with alcohol, but he was the one who chose to get drunk.  She provoked him, but he was the one that chose violence.  She led him to where the abandoned well was, but he fell in, she didn’t push him.  She did choose not to help him out though.

Is it a crime to choose not to save someones life?  We see reporters do it all the time when they film atrocities but do not get involved, but this is not the same as that.  Is it the same as murder?  Is leading someone to their death knowing it the same as killing someone?

Maybe this is why Dolores stayed so long in that awful job afterwards.  She committed this deed to protect her daughter who only then despised her for it.  In fact Selena had repressed the memory of her father’s sexual abuse so she also could not fathom what drove her mother to commit that act, an act nobody even had proof of but merely conjecture.  There were no witnesses to her father’s death and he was a known drunk so it logically could’ve been an accident.

Also, Vera understoon Dolores and her problems the way nobody else had.  This is also why it becomes clear that Dolores would not have murdered her, despite the $1.6 Million she stood to inherit.  In the end we see that it was Vera who had thrown herself down the stairs.

Dolores Claiborne: [sobbing] Why? Why’d you do this, Vera?
Vera Donovan: Because I hate the smell of being old.

Vera then asked Dolores to help her, which spawned the frantic search for the rolling pin, but in the end Dolores couldn’t.  There is a difference between passively setting up a scenario which could lead to a persons death and actively killing someone after all. And we are reminded that this is how the movie began, and this is the case the detective is prosecuting, not Joe St. George’s death 18 years prior:

Selena St. George: Eighteen years ago, my father drank a bottle of scotch and fell down a well. Detective Mackey didn’t think it was an accident, which is… why we’re here today.
Det. John Mackey: And what do you think, Selena?
Selena St. George: I think I owe you an apology. I called you a son of a *****. You said you thought we were a lot alike, and you were right. We both spent the past 18 years prosecuting this woman. We came out here- I know I did- believing she was guilty. We forgot this case is about Vera Donovan. Not my father.
Det. John Mackey: And what if it wasn’t an accident?
Det. John Mackey: Look. It’s been 18 years. I don’t know what this has done to you, but let me tell you, it’s consumed me. I have lived with this every day of my life. Every day. I was wrong and I won’t do it any more. And if I can say that, my God, can’t you?

Selena came to terms with what had happened, both to her and her father.  She was able to finally forgive her mother because she could understand the motivation.  As for the current death, she knew her mother would not have been capable.

“Divine civilization, however, so traineth every member of society that no one, with the exception of a negligible few, will undertake to commit a crime. There is thus a great difference between the prevention of crime through measures that are violent and retaliatory, and so training the people, and enlightening them, and spiritualizing them, that without any fear of punishment or vengeance to come, they will shun all criminal acts. They will, indeed, look upon the very commission of a crime as a great disgrace and in itself the harshest of punishments.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I feel like for Dolores this was the case.  She did not want to do what she did, and she knew it was wrong, and it consumed not only her but her daughter for these 18 years.  She punished herself through her bitterness and isolation.  She serves as a warning that even crime committed for the most desperate and understandable of reasons is polluting to the spirit and soul.  Maybe now with new found understanding between daughter and mother she can be forgiven and redeemed.

“O Lord! Have pity on these ignorant ones, and look upon them with the eye of forgiveness and pardon. Extinguish this fire, so that these dense clouds which obscure the horizon may be scattered, the Sun of Reality shine forth with the rays of conciliation, this intense gloom be dispelled and the resplendent light of peace shed its radiance upon all countries.”

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I find Dolores Claiborne to be an intriguing film that challenges us a lot.  Dolores was treated with injustice and acted in desparation and I think that a lot of crime happens for this reason.  What does this mean for our society?  We must seek justice.  Women need to be treated fairly.  Children need to be protected.  Joe St. George was a criminal who may never have been brought to justice, and while Dolores should not have taken the law into her own hands it is understandable as to how that impulse would arise.

Your Thoughts?

MirrorMask — Our Dual Nature

Film:MirrorMask Poster

MirrorMask, 2005

Starring Stephanie Leonidas and Jason Barry


Synopsis (from IMDB):

Helena, a 15-year-old girl in a family of circus entertainers, often wishes she could run off and join real life. After a fight with her parents about her future plans, her mother falls quite ill and Helena is convinced that it is all her fault. On the eve of her mother’s major surgery, she dreams that she is in a strange world with two opposing queens, bizarre creatures, and masked inhabitants. All is not well in this new world – the white queen has fallen ill and can only be restored by the MirrorMask, and it’s up to Helena to find it. But as her adventures continue, she begins to wonder whether she’s in a dream, or something far more sinister.

My Thoughts:

In the same tradition as Labyrinth or The Neverending Story, this film follows a girl who’s imagination takes her into a fantasy world.  This world is dark and visually stunning, and the the film is bursting with artistic creativity.

The film opens with one white and one black puppet, which turn out to be the girls socked feet.  This theme of black and white, of dark and light, of the good and bad within everyone is explored throughout the film, and merely foreshadowed here.  It is this theme that I would also like to explore throughout this post.

After the puppet show we have the inciting incident, an argument between Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) and her mother (Gina McKee) over growing up and the world of circus life.  Shortly afterwords Helena’s mother is hospitalized and Helena blames herself wishing she had not been so mean.  This incident is processed through Helena’s imagination as we take a journey with her to an alternate world created by her drawings and dreams.

On this journey she soon meets a juggler (Jason Barry):

Valentine: What did you say your name was?
Helena: Helena.
Valentine: Helena. Helen. Helen-nun-nuh… it’s a bit drab, isn’t it? You know, you should think about changing that. Go for something with a bit of dignity and style, mixed with a bit of romance. Something like… ‘Valentine’.
Helena: Why? What’s your name?
Valentine: Valentine.

Valentine proves to be a friend and ally as they journey together to fight the shadow enveloping this fantasy land.  They soon discover the White Queen is asleep and the Black Queen (both played by the actress who plays Helena’s “real” mother) is mourning her lost daughter, the Anti-Helena,  causing the balance to be upset.  These are two aspects of her mother, and two aspects of herself, and we soon discover two aspects of Valentine when he sells her out to the Black Queen for reward money.

In man there are two natures; his spiritual or higher nature and his material or lower nature. In one he approaches God, in the other he lives for the world alone. Signs of both these natures are to be found in men. In his material aspect he expresses untruth, cruelty and injustice; all these are the outcome of his lower nature. The attributes of his Divine nature are shown forth in love, mercy, kindness, truth and justice, one and all being expressions of his higher nature. Every good habit, every noble quality belongs to man’s spiritual nature, whereas all his imperfections and sinful actions are born of his material nature. If a man’s Divine nature dominates his human nature, we have a saint.

~ `Abdu’l-Bahá

Valentine redeems himself and helps rescue Helena, but they fear it is too late, that she may be trapped in this world because the escaped Anti-Helena is quickly tearing down the drawings and burning them.  In the end she makes it back, more aware of the bad behavior in her, and the importance of both forgiveness and apology.   This story is one of growth, and reflection.  We all have masks but what we need are mirrors, mirrors that can help us see how our thoughts and actions effect other people and have consequences.  Helena learns this, and cultivates the virtues of forgiveness and responsibility along the way, and grows to be a better person.

“To err is human, to forgive divine.”
Alexander Pope

Your thoughts?

Slumdog Millionaire — Love Overcomes Adversity

Film:

Slumdog Millionaire, 2008

Starring Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, and Frieda Pinto

Synopsis (from Fox Searchlight Pictures):

The story of Jamal Malik (Patel), an 18 year-old orphan from the slums of Mumbai, who is about to experience the biggest day of his life. With the whole nation watching, he is just one question away from winning a staggering 20 million rupees on India’s “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?” But when the show breaks for the night, police arrest him on suspicion of cheating; how could a street kid know so much? Desperate to prove his innocence, Jamal tells the story of his life in the slum where he and his brother grew up, of their adventures together on the road, of vicious encounters with local gangs, and of Latika (Pinto), the girl he loved and lost. Each chapter of his story reveals the key to the answer to one of the game show’s questions. Each chapter of Jamal’s increasingly layered story reveals where he learned the answers to the show’s seemingly impossible quizzes. But one question remains a mystery: what is this young man with no apparent desire for riches really doing on the game show? When the new day dawns and Jamal returns to answer the final question, the Inspector and sixty million viewers are about to find out. At the heart of its exuberant storytelling lies the intriguing question of how anyone comes to know the things they know about life and love.

My Thoughts (SPOILERS!):

My first thought is this- if you haven’t seen this movie, do it, now.  It is worth driving an hour to the nearest big city and going to an art-house theater, trust me.  Also if you haven’t seen this movie, I warn you, this post may have spoilers.  That being said if you want to continue reading I would be thrilled.

Now, onto the film.  There are many spiritual themes in the movie, including love, destiny, and the need for the elimnation of poverty.  The film focuses on the life of Jamal, a Muslim who grew up in the slums of Mumbai (may the city be in our thoughts and prayers due to the recent terrorism there).  We learn of his story through his participation in a game show, and how the answers to the questions relate to periods throughout his life.  Early on the film sets up the two major characters in Jamal’s life – his brother Salim, and his love Latika.

It is clear that he and his brother are tied together, two side of the same coin.  Their teacher refers to them as “Athos” and “Porthos”, two of the three musketeers, that is how close they are.  But, for how close they are they have radically different characters.  Jamal is younger, more idealistic, hopeful, as well as pure, whereas Salim is older, an inherent schemer and survivor.

Early on we see their characters diverge when Salim locks Jamal in the outhouse for taking too long and costing Salim a customer.  The biggest moviestar in India was landing in his private helicopter and Jamal is determined to see him, so he plunges through the hole to the vile muck below in order to escape.  Covered in human waste he rushes to the crowd and his commitment is rewarded with an autograph.  Jamal is ecstatic, but only briefly because Salim ends up stealing the prized signed photo and selling it for a buck. Devastated Jamal pleads to his mother, but there is nothing that can be done except to forgive his brother.

“Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself.”  ~Bahá’u’lláh

Their dependence on one another is solidified when acts of violence erupt in their slum as radical Hindus attack them for being Muslims and their mother is killed in the fray. This moment is incredibly sad, and more so when one thinks of all the unnecessary strife between people of different faiths when each religion holds similar principles such as the sanctity of human life and the golden rule.  So often in the United States, especially post-9/11 we are shown the violence caused by radical Muslims, but I think this scene is incredibly important in showing that Muslims too can be victims of violence and persecution.  If only we could all take to heart that:

“The purpose of religion as revealed from the heaven of God’s holy Will is to establish unity and concord amongst the peoples of the world; make it not the cause of dissension and strife.” ~Bahá’u’lláh

Looking back at Jamal and Salim, the now orphaned brothers, only about 7 and 9 must depend on one another.  Salim, being the older brother, makes it clear that he must now be the leader and provider of the family.  To do this he must make the hard choices in order to protect Jamal.  This adds more depth to his character.  Now it is as if his sins are a way to keep Jamal pure, protecting him from having to make the morally ambiguous decision.

Enter Latika.  An orphan, like the boys, we first meet her standing in the rain.  The boys have found shelter, and Jamal wants to let her share, but Salim vetoes.  Again we see Jamal’s purity and inherent “goodness” and Salim’s view that survival means looking out for themselves.  In the end Latika is invited in when Salim is sleeping, and her friendship with Jamal is solidified.

The three frequent dumps where they can find scraps of food as well as rubbish to clean up and sell.  It is here that they are discovered by a man who runs an orphanage.  At first he seems like a savior, providing them food to eat, shelter, a place to sleep, and other kids to learn and play with.  However, it becomes clear there is a dark side to this seeming utopia as the kids are taught how to be more effective beggers through learning songs and holding babies.

Here it becomes even more evident that the extremes of wealth and poverty need to be eliminated, because these children have fallen through society’s cracks and are now being taken advantage of because they have no other options.  It is sad that so close there are wealthy neighborhoods where the crime bosses and moviestars live.

Salim who is obstinate and strong becomes the right-hand-child to the bosses, acting as a bouncer of sorts and keeping the other kids in line.  His ego is puffed up and he treats the other kids roughly, but all this changes when he is given an assignment, to bring a fellow orphan to the bosses.  The orphan sings a song he has been taught very well and is praised for it.  The boss says he is ready, and then chloroforms him, and proceeds to blind the child with a hot spoon.  This is because singing blind children make more money begging.  Salim wretches, unbelieving that these men would take away a child’s sight to make some extra money.  Even that is a line he can’t cross morally.

Then he is told to bring Jamal over.  He plays along, but his protection instincts are fully alerted.  He does not want Jamal to suffer the same fate, and so when the time comes to chloroform Jamal, Salim instead throws the bottle in the face of the man, grabs Jamal’s hand and runs.  Latika, watching from the bushes, runs with them.  They know they must escape or they will be beaten and probably blinded.

Soon the kidnappers catch up to them as the children are about to board a train.  Salim makes it up first, and pulls up Jamal.  Then it is Latika’s turn, but as Salim holds her he lets go.  Jamal is appalled, but Salim claimed it was Latika who let go and that she is strong and can fend for herself.  However, this is another instance where for Salim protecting himself and his brother is more important than anything else.  For him Latika was a sacrifice, a way of slowing down their pursuers.

The boys then spend the time on trains selling odd things, and stealing from passengers out of desperation.  Eventually they make it to the Taj Mahal where they realize they can make a lot of money out of gullible tourists who also have much guilt for not being able to help end the poverty they see all around them.  Yet another instance of how these extremes of wealth and poverty cause disunity, as the impoverished are so desperate and in need that they thieve and deceive the wealthy, foreign tourists, probably leaving them with a dislike of India as a whole.

Though out time Jamal convinces Salim to return to their native Mumbai and to get legitimate jobs at a restaurant and to look for Latika.  Salim makes it clear that he is placating Jamal, and that he likes this life they now have, preying on tourists.  He also reminds Jamal that of a city with tens of millions of people he is not likely to find Latika.  Again the character traits of idealism and hope on the one-hand, and cynical survivalism show through in these brothers.

Jamal runs into the blinded friend on the street singing, and gives him a US$100 bill he had stolen from a tourist at the Taj Mahal that he had been saving- partially out of penance, and partially to find information about Latika.  The blind boy tells him she is in the redlight district and goes by the name of Cherry.  Jamal is ecstatic and goes to tell Salim.

Together they go, and find her, about to have her virginity taken for a high price by an old man, and the Orphanage Boss is clearly now her pimp.  In order to save her, Salim brandishes a gun and kills the boss-man to the shock of all involved.  It is clear there is no going back.  The three “musketeers” reunited seek shelter in an abandoned hotel, where Latika tells Jamal she knew he would come back and save her.  Unfortunately Salim, drunk, and clearly destroyed from having killed for the first time, kicks Jamal out of the room and makes it clear that because he saved their lives and saved Latika from prostitution he deserved her virginity. Salim’s moral compass has now completely dissolved as he broke his brother’s heart and violated the girl he claimed to have saved.

When Jamal returns Latika and Salim are nowhere to be found.  Years pass and he is alone.  He makes his way in the world legitimately first in the restaurant, but finally as an assistant at a Phone Company.  It is here that he rediscovers his brother by finding his phone number in the directory.  He had first tried Latika but did not know her last name so she was impossible to find.

His brother is thrilled to take the call and sets up a time to meet.  Unlike Jamal, he has not gone the legitimate route.  He is now a thug for the biggest mob-boss, who he sought protection from for killing the smaller orphanage running crime-lord.  Jamal imagines throwing his brother off the building, and ends up punching him, the most violent action he has taken thus far.  His brother pleads for forgiveness and claims that he didn’t mean to abandon him but that he and Latika had to flee because the security guard for the hotel had come.  Jamal is still skeptical.  He asks about Latika, and his brother says to forget about her, that she is the property of the mob-boss now.

Jamal finds her anyway, posing as a dishwasher, and convinces Latika to run away with him.  However, their attempt is unsuccessful and she is recaptured and cut with a knife as punishment.  Jamal is devastated that he harmed Latika and when he finds that the mob-boss has moved fears he will never see her again.  That is why he sought out to be on “Who wants to be a Millionaire?” because he prayed she would be watching and that they would find each other again, even if he didn’t win the money (but if he did, he would use it to help her escape and provide a good life for her).

Unfortunately, because he was an uneducated slumdog, the producers of the show thought he must be cheating.  This is where the movie began, with him being tortured into telling them how, and it is where we are at the end, feeling bad for our honest hero who just happened to know the answers claiming it must be destiny.  Despite all the adversity he stuck to the truth, even if it meant a lot of torture.  However the thugs could see that he was being honest and convinced the producer to hear out his explanation before judging.

In the end our hero’s virtue is rewarded and he is reunited with Latika as well as won the $20 million, but not without the help and sacrifice of his brother.  Salim, upon seeing his brother on TV and seeing Latika’s hope, gives her his cell phone and helps her escape.  She wants him to come with her, but he refuses saying he will stay behind and stall.  He then takes all of the mob-bosses money and a gun, and fills the bathtub with it and hides out there.  When the boss discovers that Latika is missing he knows Salim is to blame and bursts into the bathroom which Salim had barricaded.  Salim procedes to shoot and kill him, but the Boss’s other goons kill him and as he bleeds he turns the cash into literal blood-money.  It is clear that this is both Salim’s last attempt to protect his brother, and his attempt at redemption to allow Latika and Jamal the happiness they deserve, and to make up for his betrayal of them both earlier in the film.

Jamal and Latika are unaware of this, and are reunited when Jamal uses his “Call a Friend” lifeline and calls Salim’s number, the only one he knows, and Latika is the one with the phone.  She desperately gets to the phone just in time but is of no help since she doesn’t know the answer.  It doesn’t matter though, because he has found her, and he puts it in fates hands as 60 million fellow Indians watch, hoping to see this literaly rags to riches story pan out.

It does, and the film ends with Latika and Jamal embracing at the train station, and then a Bollywood style dance number over the credits.

This film was incredibly heart-warming, and I could barely touch on all the spiritually potent content there was packed into the beautiful film full of hope, tragedy, and redemption.

Your thoughts?