Where the Wild Things Are — Tumult in our Hearts

Film:Where the Wild Things Are movie poster

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Starring Max Records and Catherine Keener.

Voiced by James Gandolfini, Catharine O’Hara, Paul Dano, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper and Lauren Ambrose.

Synopsis (From official website):

Innovative director Spike Jonze collaborates with celebrated author Maurice Sendak to bring one of the most beloved books of all time to the big screen.

The film tells the story of Max, a rambunctious and sensitive boy who feels misunderstood at home and escapes to where the Wild Things are.  Max lands on an island where he meets mysterious and strange creatures whose emotions are as wild and unpredictable as their actions.

My Thoughts:

This film is potent.  It is dark and raw, beautiful and sad.  This films goes beyond the purview of the children’s book and really delves into how divorce can effect a child.  Max is lonely and misunderstood and frustrated.  This film does not use much dialogue to express these emotions because Max himself does not have the words to express his struggles.  He is so young and yet going through so much pain.  He tries to connect with his mother and sister, but they too are struggling and so he feels disconnected, abandoned by his father, and powerless.  This is what leads to his acting out, and leads him to his imaginary world, a world just as disfunctional as the real one.  In this world each “Wild Thing” represents an aspect of himself, and members of his family.  One is angry, another feels overlooked.  This place of imagination helps him process what he is going through.  I so wanted to reach out to this fragile, hurting child.  I wanted to:

Be Thou their companion in their loneliness, their helper in a strange land, the remover of their sorrows, their comforter in calamity. Be Thou a refreshing draught for their thirst, a healing medicine for their ills and a balm for the burning ardor of their hearts. —‘Abdu’l-Bahá

I think this film is important for us as a society to watch.  It may not be light and fun and entertaining, in fact, while it was visually stunning and beautiful, it was painful to watch.  But pain is good, pain helps us grow.

Men who suffer not, attain no perfection. The plant most pruned by the gardeners is that one which, when the summer comes, will have the most beautiful blossoms and the most abundant fruit.—‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Often when we see children acting out we may be quick to judge their actions, their behavior, but the world is a difficult place.  Our actions as adults effect children.  Divorce is a difficult thing for all involved.  It leaves young children feeling insecure, confused, hurt, and lonely.  It rips families apart and can leave people aching.  There are times when it is necessary (in cases of abuse), but is it always?

Divorce has really changed the landscape of our society, the nature of our families, and is indicative of the pain and mistrust we have inside of ourselves.  Films like this give us opportunity to reflect upon our actions, their motives, and their consequences.  It also gives us time to reflect on the importance of love and compassion, and helping each other work through pain.

I have never been married, so I cannot speak to how easy or difficult it is.  What I can speak to is that there is a lot of confusion regarding marriage, and the nature of commitment.  People joke of starter marriages, and of “trading up” and I can’t help but hurt thinking about people like commodities.  I also can’t help but lament that the only discussions that seem to be happening regarding marriage in the news revolve around the rights for gays to marry.  We need to have more discussions regarding the nature of marriage itself, the nature of commitment, how a healthy marriage can help the children born of that marriage to flourish, and how the dissolution of marriages are costly emotionally, materially, and spiritually.  One thing that helps me when meditating on the meaning of marriage is to look to guidance, such as:

The friends of God must so live and conduct themselves, and evince such excellence of and conduct, as to make others astonished. The love between husband and wife should not be purely physical, nay, rather it must be spiritual and heavenly. These two souls should be considered as one soul. How difficult it would be to divide a single soul! Nay, great would be the difficulty! —‘Abdu’l-Bahá

So often we go to movies to escape, but this art can also be a mirror, a mirror that helps us to reflect on ourselves and our society.  It can uplift and empower us through emotion and help us cultivate understanding and empathy.

All Art is a gift of the Holy Spirit. When this light shines through the mind of a musician, it manifests itself in beautiful harmonies. Again, shining through the mind of a poet, it is seen in fine poetry and poetic prose. When the Light of the Sun of Truth inspires the mind of a painter, he produces marvellous pictures. These gifts are fulfilling their highest purpose, when showing forth the praise of God. —‘Abdu’l-Bahá

One thing I am going to walk away from this film with is a greater desire to love and serve humanity.  Our society is going through a lot of pain now and love is its only countermeasure.  When the people I know, whether friends, family, members of the community, or strangers I meet on a train, are suffering, I want to be a balm.  I think part of what was so painful for me watching this film was that I could not reach out and comfort Max.  I couldn’t give him a hug.  I could listen to him, or let him heave and cry on my shoulder.  However, there are many real people that need comfort too and I want to be there.  I want to be present, unlike the people in Max’s life.  This may not be possible, but I can strive.  This film has inspired me to strive.

Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone. Let your heart burn with loving-kindness for all who may cross your path. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

 

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WALL-E — Honoring our environment and ourselves

Film:WALL-E Movie Poster

WALL-E, 2008

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

In a futuristic world, human beings have destroyed Earth and evacuated the planet, leaving the cleanup to an army of robots they’ve programmed to do their dirty work. Due to a mishap, the dutiful WALL-E is the only one left. But with the arrival of a female probe named EVE, the monotony of WALL-E’s existence is broken — and he experiences love for the first time. Andrew Stanton directs this Golden Globe-winning Pixar tale with a sci-fi twist.

My Thoughts:

This film transcends its medium.  It speaks to us on multiple levels, from plot, to social commentary, from personal transformation, to collective responsibility.  There are several themes which are quite profound and that people struggle with (or struggle to ignore) daily.

One theme is of hope, and specifically how it can overcome even the greatest obstacles.  We see this exhibited through WALL-E himself.  He is the last of his kind, alone attempting to accomplish an impossible task.  Yet instead of giving up hope he works diligently, gleaning what good he can from the mess that is left of earth.  When EVE comes, he is so happy, and patient with her initially cold (robotic? 🙂 ) reaction to him.

Just as the earth bears those who dig into her, it is best to bear with those who despise us.”  ~TiruVuluvar (the Jain saint)

The theme of hope is also exhibited in the greater society as they send forth the EVE droids in search of a habitable planet.  While it has been 700 years or more, they still go out searching for plant life.  Hope has been a large component of 2008, the year this film came out, and even more so I would say in 2009 as the world embraces the new US President Barack Obama and his message.  Over the last year the world has seen the largest economic collapse since the great depression, with countries like Iceland going bankrupt.  We have seen wars and conflict, from the most recent installment of Israel/Palestine, to the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, to the horrible act of terrorism in Mumbai.  This film is part of the greater conversation of hope, a way to help both children and families engage in this conversation in a more uplifting way than the nightly news might.  If we can keep this conversation going, then maybe we can transform the words into deeds and come up with the small, daily solutions that together can build toward peace.

Release yourselves, O nightingales of God, from the thorns and brambles of wretchedness and misery, and wing your flight to the rose-garden of unfading splendor.” ~Bahá’u’lláh

WALL-E did not worry about the insurmountable task at hand, cleaning up the entire world, a mess that he did not create but that was his mission to fix.  He just went out each day and did what he could, bit by bit, and while it may have seemed like emptying the ocean one teaspoon at a time, it had an effect.  I think that is a lesson for all of us.

One must work on what is not yet there.

One must put in order what is not yet confused.

A tree trunk the size of a fathom grows from a blade as thin as a hair.

A tower nine stories high is built from a small heap of earth.

A journey of a thousand miles starts in front of your feet.” ~ The Dao De Jing, II:64

It is so easy to look at the world and see how enormous these problems are and to be overwhelmed by them.  In doing that we can willfully isolate ourselves, and seek escape.  I do think though, that if we each try to do our small part, collectively it will have an effect.  Through the actions of WALL-E, EVE, and the Captain to fight the system that was trying to keep the status-quo in place they were able to inspire others to action.  I think this is what the great religions, in their pure form, try to do.  If you take out the politics of people who try to manipulate religion to suit their own purpose, the spiritual content of religion is meant to inspire people to transform, to make themselves, and therefore the world, a better place.  It brings people hope, gives them purpose and direction.

The other major theme of WALL-E was responsibility.  WALL-E and EVE each had directives, responsibilities they had to fulfill.  When WALL-E was the last of his class of robot still functioning, alone with nobody to keep him accountable, he still worked hard and was responsible.  This is part of what made him our hero, he had a strong character.  Yes, he had his haven full of the trinkets he collected, and his musicals to keep him company, but I think that is evidence of the other virtue of moderation.  Even robots need down time and can’t survive being workaholics.  WALL-E needed solar power, much like we humans need sleep.  I think in American society we suffer from extremes of working hard, often too hard, and then relaxing too “hard” also.  People veg out on the weekends to recover from the week, sometimes practically comatose.

In the film people had all their needs met and no longer had any real responsibility.  They became fat and sedentary.  Instead of taking responsibility for the waste produced on earth, they ran away.  This did not actually make them happy though.  Clearly this is a cautionary tale for what we are struggling with today when it comes to the environment.  Our society has been designed around consumerism and materialism and this has both social and environmental costs.  Without spirituality and ethics to temper these insatiable desires we can see where the world could end up.  Responsibility is a virtue that we all need to work on.  It is something I struggle with daily, and when achieved is a sign of maturity.

“Maturity: It’s when you stop doing the stuff you have to make excuses for and when you stop making excuses for the stuff you have to do.” ~ Marilyn Vos Savant

Our planet is going through its adolescence, so to speak.  Let us hope we mature to handle the tests of global warming, global waste management, and the myriad of other tests our society is going through.  In the film, many characters learned to overcome selfishness and to think of the others, and the collective.  EVE had a directive and was single-minded in her goals.  It was how she was programmed.  But over time, through WALL-E’s influence she was able to overcome her programming and do right (though her programming was pretty good too, seeing as the Captain turned out to be the only other ally initially).  I think this is also allegorical.  We have all been “programmed” so to speak.  Society is full of conflicting messages, and through our independent investigation of reality, hopefully in time we can each learn to make good decisions and to filter out the good from the bad in media.  Some of the programming is good, and some is not.  Let us hope that like EVE in time we can figure out which is which and work to change.

There is so much more I could write about, but I think I would like to end with an excerpt from the Song of Solomon.  This film is all about love, and hope, and the spring (growth) following the winter (barrenness) and made me think of this beautiful passage:

My lover spoke and said to me,

‘Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.

See! The winter is past; the rains are over and gone.

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come, the cooing of doves is heard in our land.

The fig tree forms its early fruit; the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.

Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me.’

~ Excerpt from The Song of Songs (The Song of Solomon)

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?