Henry Poole is Here — Despair vs. Faith

Film:Henry Poole is Here Movie Poster

Henry Poole is Here, 2008

Starring Luke Wilson, Radha Mitchell, Adriana Barraza, Cheryl Hines, and George Lopez.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Rather than living his last days to the fullest after learning he only has six weeks left on earth, Henry Poole (Luke Wilson) cuts himself off from his fiancée and his family — and binges on Twinkies, pizza and liquor. But a fortuitous miracle and a clash with his eccentric, meddling neighbors derail Henry’s plans in director Mark Pellington’s witty black comedy.

My Thoughts:

I set this post up way back in January, when I had seen the film on the plane coming back from Israel.  I knew it was a spiritually potent film, but I had gotten stuck on what exactly I had wanted to say.  This film wrestles with a subject we all must face sooner or later: our mortality.  I am still relatively young and people my age generally do not think about death, imagining it to be far from now, but death can come upon thee anytime unheralded.

Henry Poole had to face his death with his life still in front of him.  Often it can be easier to face death if one has faith, since a belief that life continues in spiritual form after the death of the material body can be both comforting and a relief.  Henry did not have faith though.  If anything, his faith was lost through this test.  He returned to his childhood home, bemoaning his lowly state, drinking himself into an even lower state of depression, and treating his friends and family with wrath.  But we should not judge him

… for none knoweth what his own end shall be. How often hath a sinner attained, at the hour of death, to the essence of faith, and, quaffing the immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the Concourse on high! And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul’s ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire! ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Despite Henry Poole giving up on God, God did not give up on Henry Poole.  Soon a water stain appeared on the wall of his house which looked like Jesus to those who had eyes to see.  His neighbor, Esperanza (so aptly named Hope), a person of great faith soon brings all of her Catholic friends, as well as a priest to see this miracle.  Henry is annoyed and angered at both their naivete, ignorance, and willful foolishness.  It is just a stain and he insists on removing it.  Try as he may it will not scrub off.

Esperanza is patient with him though.  She knows he is suffering, and she too has suffered.  The love of her life had died, leaving her alone, and when Henry learns of this he becomes more patient with her too.  Esperanza through her actions is the embodiment of faith and of virtue, even if she is a bit nosy.

The virtues and attributes pertaining unto God are all evident and manifest, and have been mentioned and described in all the heavenly Books. Among them are trustworthiness, truthfulness, purity of heart while communing with God, forbearance, resignation to whatever the Almighty hath decreed, contentment with the things His Will hath provided, patience, nay, thankfulness in the midst of tribulation, and complete reliance, in all circumstances, upon Him. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Henry’s faith is again tested when the mute, little girl from next door starts hanging around.  He begins to feel for her and her mother, and when she touches the wall she begins to talk again.  Her mother is over joyed, knowing that her daughters affliction had been a response to her father having left.  This is a side note, but I think very important.  Our actions have consequences and can effect the ones we love deeply.  This little girl was abandoned by her father, and because of that feared speaking.

Henry is able to open up and to love again, despite his mortality.  He finally opens up to her mother about his condition, and limited time left on earth.  Unfortunately the little girl overhears, and in grief returns to muteness.  This is too much for Henry to bear.  It was enough that he had to be (in his eyes) cursed with dying young, but then to hurt the people he cares about was too much.  In frustration, and anger, he destroys the wall, which represents to him false hope, lies, and deceit.

While anger and destruction are far from ideal, Henry was feeling powerless and not in control and by destroying the wall he was trying to take back control.  Henry could not accept the Will of God, and through fighting it created even more pain for himself.

Through the entire film we watch people transform.  We watch Henry grieve, and grow, and open up, then relapse, but finally transform.  We watch the little girl do the same.  We watch the neighbors come together.  In the end, this is the purpose of religion, to transform people.  It is the reason why Jesus came, in fact why every Messenger of God came, to bring hope and transformation.

And yet, is not the object of every Revelation to effect a transformation in the whole character of mankind, a transformation that shall manifest itself both outwardly and inwardly, that shall affect both its inner life and external conditions? For if the character of mankind be not changed, the futility of God’s universal Manifestations would be apparent. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Your Thoughts?

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The Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival

Sun Valley Spiritual Film FestivalSo I was wandering around wordpress and there was a “Hawt Post” about how bloggers can use twitter to help build their blogging community.  You can check that out here if you want.

Anyway, that led me to Twitter, which though I use I haven’t really gotten hooked on yet.  I figured I’d search and see what I found, figuring maybe there would be something I could blog about.  I typed “Spiritual film” and low and behold I saw some tweets about the Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival.  I really like their mission statement:


The Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival is a celebration of human spirituality through film.

Given this vision, the mission of the Sun Valley Spiritual Film Festival is to:

  • Present films that explore spiritual traditions from around the world, as well as films that cherish the human spirit.
  • Encourage the production of new films and documentaries, by providing an event in which these films can be screened.
  • Promote discussion among recognized leaders in the fields of arts and spirituality, by presenting interactive discussion panels.
  • Offer the public an opportunity to engage with film-makers and spiritual leaders.
  • Enhance the public’s understanding of, and respect for, diverse spiritual traditions from around the world.

It caught my eye and it turns out Sun Valley is in Idaho.  It’s a shame it’s not a month sooner since I will be spending the summer in Yellowstone National Park and could meander that way. They don’t have this year’s program up yet, but they have an archive of the films they’ve shown in past years.  Topics include films on Buddhist prayer, Mother Theresa, Dealing with Cerebral Palsy, the Aftermath of 9/11, Eastern European religious icons, and the comfort of pets to name just a few.  If you are in Idaho and feel like checking out some moving pictures, look them up.

The whole foray into twitter and finding this film festival has inspired me to post information about any film festivals I learn of that promote spiritual, religious, or inspirational films.  Maybe I’ll even start a twitter account specifically for this blog.

Watchmen — Justice, Accountability, and Distopia

Film:Watchmen Poster

Watchmen, 2009

Starring Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated. The reunited heroes set out to prevent their own destruction, but in doing so discover a deeper and far more diabolical plot.

My Thoughts:

I am the type of person that enjoys lighthearted films, films that make me laugh and pick me up, films that inspire.  That being said, sometimes gritty, raw, and dark films can also inspire.  Watchmen is definitely a downer, as one can tell from the opening credits as the heroes fall from favor as society turns against them and they must go into hiding.  But there is a lot we can learn from these dark emotions that Watchmen so artfully invokes.

I have talked about justice before, but this film focuses so heavily on it that I feel it is important to discuss again.  In an ideal society government would function in a way to serve and protect its citizens.  Unfortunately in this universe, during World War II society needed assistance.  The Watchmen formed and were initially heralded as heroes, though soon were villianized as vigilantes.

Much of this had to do with the Watchmen wearing masks.  This anonymity gave the appearance of a lack of accountability as the public rallied crying “Who watches the Watchmen”?

O SON OF BEING! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Accountability is important.  Afterall the film, as well as the graphic novel it is based on, showed that there were reasons for the people to be weary of the Watchmen.  They were just people too, afterall, and while some had noble intentions, others, like the Comedian, acted on more base instincts.

But the film does not stop on the surface level of accountability.  As we can see in the current economic crisis, people without masks can be just as wreckless as those who remain hidden.  In the movie this comes to light through the one living Watchman who had “gone public”.  He was viewed honorably and as a hero and a successful businessman, but he turned out to be the most deadly of all, whereas others like Night Owl had a strong moral compass that kept them accountable even masked.

I think that is a lesson we can all take to heart in our own lives and meditate on the true meaning of accountability.  For those who believe in God,ultimate accountability rests in His hands.  I think Watchmen really plays with the idea of loss of accountability.  This distopia lacked God, it lacked government, it lacked a social contract.  In that system it is little wonder that Ozymandias could see the sacrifice of several million people for peace as valid.  We can see how tragedy can unite people, and through unity peace can be achieved.  Maybe it was valid argument, but Ozymandias does not have the right to make that choice.

How can we build unity?  In a way that does not resort to destruction like it did in Watchmen.  I see this movie, and graphic novel as warning, a look into a world unchecked.  Some people see our world like that, but it does not have to be.  We can make good choices, and keep ourselves accountable.

I think I will end this post with a beautiful story from Persian culture about another Watchman.  I think it has a lot to do with seeing the end in the beginning, which was a theme of this film as well.  Rorschach could see there was something wrong before the others could, but he could not see the end as quickly as he would have liked.  Ozymandias believed the end was just.  Dr. Manhattan withdrew from humanity.  The difference, or perhaps similarity if you share Ozymandias’ point of view, is that the end in this scenario is good.   Perhaps the people should have listened to the Watchman, which watchman is up to you.  Without further ado, the story as recounted by Bahá’u’llá

There was once a lover who had sighed for long years in separation from his beloved, and wasted in the fire of remoteness. From the rule of love, his heart was empty of patience, and his body weary of his spirit; he reckoned life without her as a mockery, and time consumed him away. How many a day he found no rest in longing for her; how many a night the pain of her kept him from sleep; his body was worn to a sigh, his heart’s wound had turned him to a cry of sorrow. He had given a thousand lives for one taste of the cup of her presence, but it availed him not. The doctors knew no cure for him, and companions avoided his company; yea, physicians have no medicine for one sick of love, unless the favor of the beloved one deliver him.

At last, the tree of his longing yielded the fruit of despair, and the fire of his hope fell to ashes. Then one night he could live no more, and he went out of his house and made for the marketplace. On a sudden, a watchman followed

after him. He broke into a run, with the watchman following; then other watchmen came together, and barred every passage to the weary one. And the wretched one cried from his heart, and ran here and there, and moaned to himself: “Surely this watchman is Izrá’íl, my angel of death, following so fast upon me; or he is a tyrant of men, seeking to harm me.” His feet carried him on, the one bleeding with the arrow of love, and his heart lamented. Then he came to a garden wall, and with untold pain he scaled it, for it proved very high; and forgetting his life, he threw himself down to the garden.

And there he beheld his beloved with a lamp in her hand, searching for a ring she had lost. When the heart-surrendered lover looked on his ravishing love, he drew a great breath and raised up his hands in prayer, crying: “O God! Give Thou glory to the watchman, and riches and long life. For the watchman was Gabriel, guiding this poor one; or he was Isráfíl, bringing life to this wretched one!”

Indeed, his words were true, for he had found many a secret justice in this seeming tyranny of the watchman, and seen how many a mercy lay hid behind the veil. Out of wrath, the guard had led him who was athirst in love’s desert to the sea of his loved one, and lit up the dark night of absence with the light of reunion. He had driven one who was afar, into the garden of nearness, had guided an ailing soul to the heart’s physician.

Now if the lover could have looked ahead, he would have blessed the watchman at the start, and prayed on his behalf, and he would have seen that tyranny as justice; but since the end was veiled to him, he moaned and made his plaint in the beginning. Yet those who journey in the garden land of knowledge, because they see the end in the beginning, see peace in war and friendliness in anger.

Music Video: Glósóli by Sigur Rós

My dear readers, I know I have been neglectful!  There are so many drafts of posts and despite it being spring break I can’t seem to make any of them come to fruition.  So instead I will leave you with this beautiful music video of the song Glósóli from a favorite Icelandic band of my Sigur Rós. I have to thank SoulPancake for introducing me to the piece.

I think this video is representative of how music can transcend language or culture, as well as how music and film as well as the arts in general touch the heart and the spirit. I think this quote captures it:

Although sound is but the vibrations of the air which affect the tympanum of the ear, and vibrations of the air are but an accident upon accidents that depend upon the air, consider how much marvelous notes or a charming song influence the spirits!  A wonderful song giveth wings to the spirit and filleth the heart with exaltation… ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

There are some beautiful themes in this video such as innocence, hope, longing, cooperation, and transcendence.  See if you can spot them 🙂

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED — Innovation, Hope, Cooperation, and Hardwork

Film:The Future We Will Create Movie Poster

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED, 2007

Starring Daphne Zuniga, Al Gore, Rick Warren, Peter Gabriel, Larry Brilliant, Marjora Carter and others.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Hailed “the hottest gathering in the world” by Wired magazine, TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is an annual event where an eclectic group of brilliant minds exchange bold ideas for the future. Actress Daphne Zuniga is your host on this all-access tour of the conference. Guests include former Vice President Al Gore, musician Peter Gabriel, environmentalist Majora Carter, as well as comedians, authors and innovators from around the world.

My Thoughts:

I love TED.  I had never heard of this conference nor this documentary about it before NetFlix recommended it and I am so thankful it did (I am beginning to see a theme here… I promise not to gush too much about NetFlix any more… I just as frequently discover great films from my library and from friends).  Ok, back to the point.  Apparently TED is this great conference by invite only, in which technical innovators, scientists, artists, and social advocates come together to both speak about what they have been doing as well as to help each other achieve their dreams to better the world. The people who attended TED seem to live this mantra:

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“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi
All these ideas were mind blowing.  There was an architect there who was working to design open source plans for developing countries so that they can build safe, efficient, sustainable, and inexpensive homes, schools, and clinics.    There was a medical scientist who had helped with the UN mission to eradicate smallpox and was now working on preventing a bird flu pandemic.  There was an 11-year-old violin virtuoso, and a beat poet.  The found of one laptop per child.  The list goes on an on.
There was such diversity of thoughts, of methods, of action, and yet such love and respect for one another here.  Whether scientist or artist, religious or atheist, these people all came together with the goal of changing the world for the better.  They were united by a common purpose which reminded me of this beautiful passage:
Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity.
This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
What I didn’t realize was that Bono’s One Campaign was born from TED.  And even though the conference is invite-only, it is not exclusive but has an outward orientation.  Anyone can access and watch the speakers from their website.  This film of the conference really made me beam because it speaks to how much through education, hardwork, and cooperation we really can work together to solve the World’s problems.  This conference was all about unity.
So powerful is the light of unity that it can envelop the whole earth.
~Bahá’u’lláh
I can’t help but stress it enough.  Al Gore spoke of global warming which is a global problem.  But Rick Warren, a respected Christian minister also spoke.  Both religion and science recognize the power behind a united purpose.
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~ Ephesians 4:1-6
Or from a scientific point of view:
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“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Albert Einstein
Perhaps my thoughts have been all over the place, but I highly suggest you check out TED.  The great thing about the conference is that it was a mix of the biggest ideas, as well as ideas that are actually working, on the ground, right now to make the world better.
Your thoughts?

Cashback — Boredom, Sexuality, and Beauty

Cashback Movie PosterFilm:

Cashback, 2006

Starring Sean Biggerstaff and Emilia Fox.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

When art student Ben Willis dumps his girlfriend Suzy, he develops insomnia after finding out how quickly she moved on. To pass the long hours of the night, he starts working the late night shift at the local supermarket. There he meets a colorful cast of characters, all of whom have their own ‘art’ in dealing with the boredom of an eight-hour-shift. Ben’s art is that he imagines himself stopping time. This way, he can appreciate the artistic beauty of the frozen world and the people inside it – especially Sharon, the quiet checkout girl, who perhaps holds the answer to solving the problem of Ben’s insomnia.

My Thoughts:

I subscribe to NetFlix instant and it is through their recommendation that I happened upon this quirky, independent British film.  It reminded me that despite how sexualized American culture is/may seem, we do have puritan roots compared to Europe.  This film is filled with nudity of all kinds, some that would make an American film NC-17.  At first it shocked me a little, but I do think that it served a purpose, as well as could provoke a discussion that perhaps the religious and secular shy away from, and I will delve into that more later. I just wanted to be upfront about the content of this movie since I’ve noticed the promotional materials geared to Americans tend to neglect it (I was surprised myself).

This film started as an 18 minute short film.  Due to it’s critical acclaim and Oscar nod, the writer and director, Sean Ellis, turned it into a full length movie.  This film is an exploration of how the main character, Ben Willis, views the world.  Because he is an insomniac and an artist the whole quality of the film is dreamlike.  It’s actually quite beautiful and some of the shots really capture the art of film, as opposed to just its story telling ability.

In fact, beauty is a central theme of the entire film.  Ben Willis is attending art school in the hopes of becoming a painter.  It is clear that he is enamored with the female form and women are his muse.

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it ~ Confucius

There is a real juxtaposition between his wonderment, how he revers women and the beauty of their bodies, and how the rest of the males in the film do.  His male coworkers are juvenile and look at porn and hire strippers.  In return they do not get very far in relationships, since the women can see the vileness and crassness they exhibit.

Ben, on the other hand, is different.  In the film he has the ability to stop time, something I have always wanted.  It is his way of dealing with boredom and monotony.  At first, when he does so, he looks at all the women.  He undresses them.  This is a really challenging part of the film for me, being a woman and thinking about how unwillingly exposed I would be in that situation, completely unaware of what Ben was doing.  However, I think it is a true metaphor for what men (and women!) do to each other in our vain imagination.  How frequently have people talked of “undressing with the eyes”?

ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE! Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower. Not a pure breath have ye breathed, nor hath the breeze of detachment been wafted from the meadows of your hearts. Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

I think Ben’s undressing though is less sexual, and more focused on the Eve-like true beauty of women (at least I hope so 🙂 ).  Ben was sexualized at a young age when he and his best friend found his father’s stash of dirty magazines.  Through the film it is clear how much of an effect that had on both him and his best friend (who pays for strippers and chases women to no avail).  I think this also speaks to the taboo on discussing sexual topics, since these children discovered all this on their own, without any parental guidance.  These topics are hard to talk about, especially in religious households that value chastity, but not talking about it does not mean that children will not be exposed.  I do not have an answer as to what is the best thing to do, but I do think “ostrich syndrome” doesn’t help.

Speaking of chastity, Ben’s budding relationship with Sharon, and his fascination with her is incredibly chaste in comparison.  All his drawings of her are of her face and eyes, and he sees her beauty through her expressions, her dreams, and her inherent nobility.  She is different than the other hooligans working the night shift.  She is learning Spanish and wants to travel the world.  He respects her and is enamored by her, and when is given the opportunity to kiss her merely pecks her on the cheek.  It is their first kiss (again pretty chaste, not the tongue filled make out kisses we are used to in Hollywood) that breaks the spell of his insomnia.

For when the true lover and devoted friend reacheth to the presence of the Beloved, the sparkling beauty of the Loved One and the fire of the lover’s heart will kindle a blaze and burn away all veils and wrappings. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Unfortunately when Ben takes Sharon to a party, his ex is there.  She corners him and kisses him, and Sharon sees, though she turns to run before seeing him pushing his ex away and rejecting him.  Ben pauses time, but he cannot rewind it.  He knows the hurt he has caused and wants to stay in this moment as long as he can before Sharon runs away and cries.  He knows how important trustworthiness, fidelity, and respect are and in that moment he lost them.

The ending is beautiful, and while I have already given so much away, I will save that.  If you end up watching the film, Ben’s character shines through with his consideration, fortitude, and love in the final scenes.

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Your thoughts?