Precious — A Mine Rich in Gems

Film:Precious Movie Poster

Precious, 2009

Starring Gabourey Sidibe, Mo’Nique, Paula Patton, and Mariah Carey.

Synopsis (from Netflix):

Viciously abused by her mother (a riveting, Oscar-winning Mo’Nique) and pregnant by her father, Harlem teen Precious Jones (Oscar nominee Gabourey Sidibe) has an unexpected chance at a different life when she enrolls in an alternative school. Teacher Blu Rain (Paula Patton) encourages her, but Precious must battle unimaginable barriers everywhere in her life.

My Thoughts:

First I would like to apologize for not writing sooner.  I had watched this film the first weekend in April and had meant to write a post for you all then.  I committed a blogger faux pas.

As for the film, this is one time I am glad it is not a true story as I would not wish anyone the amount of suffering Precious Jones had.  I just adore the message though, that through love and education she was able to see value in her life and work to overcome her obstacles, as insurmountable as they may seem.

Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.  – Bahá’u’lláh

Her teachers, both at her first school and at the new alternative school, saw something precious within Ms. Jones.  They could see that what appeared to be ugly rocks were actually uncut, unpolished gems and they worked hard with Precious to polish them until she was able to read and able to break free from her abusive home environment.

This is something we can all learn from.  We all have gems in the mine of ourselves, as does every other human being even illiterate pregnant teenagers.  The issue is that these gems have not been cut and polished yet so to the untrained eye they can seem like worthless rocks.  Blu Rain could see the end in the beginning, she could see those gems, and worked hard with Precious so that she could see them too and would want to polish them through perseverance.  We all have talents but sometimes we can’t see them.  A great teacher can, and can get you to see them too, and more importantly infect you with the enthusiasm to want to work to cultivate them.

Your thoughts?

What gems have you seen hidden in others?  What have you helped others achieve?  What have you achieved through someone’s encouragement?

Advertisements

Synecdoche, New York — Idle Fancies, Vain Imaginings, and Longing

Film:

Synecdoche, New York, 2008

Staring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Catherine Keener, Samantha Morton, Michelle Williams, Emily Watson, Dianne Wiest, and Jennifer Jason Leigh.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

After his painter wife (Catherine Keener) leaves him and takes their daughter to Berlin, theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) stages an autobiographical play in a massive New York City warehouse amid a life-size replica of Manhattan. Meanwhile, Caden must contend with the many women in his life — including a box-office worker, an actress and a shrink — in this beguiling directorial debut from screenwriter Charlie Kaufman.

My Thoughts:

This movie has been in the recommended queue for over a year and I am finally getting to it.  I apologize for the delay, it’s been a crazy year, and I know it’s the type of film that requires due process.  It’s the type of film that makes you think, and makes you feel.  But not comfortable feelings.  Incredibly frustratingly uncomfortable, painful feelings.  I like films like this, that force you to wrestle with this side of life but I do not enjoy films like this.  Let me elucidate that paradox a little.

Film is a medium, and as such it is not always used for entertainment and pleasure, even if that is the predominant trend.  Film can be used as a tool for communication, for meditation, or exploration.  I love it when movies use all the power film has to offer as an art form by working the visuals, and pushing the boundaries to actually show you something rather than tell you.  This movie does that.  However what it shows is frankly unpleasant.  It does it really well, but it’s painful. It helps you to experience the pain and suffering of the main character by getting so lost in him, and his meta existence so as to trick you into feeling that (if you are highly empathetic like myself).  If you like films like Lost in Translation or Magnolia then you will like this movie, but it’s even more extreme.   Ok, with that lengthy introduction let me actually get to the content of the film.

The film begins like a typical independent film starring Philip Seymour Hoffman.  He’s made a lot of them and if you’ve seen even one you have a feel for it.  As it opens, it’s gritty and has that look to it.  I think Kaufman wants to trick the audience into complacency because as it goes on characters start breaking unwritten rules.  They do not react how you expect them to, they do not react in the way society dictates is normal.

What is clear from the beginning is that Caden Cotard is lonely, unhappy, and ill, and throughout the film this state increases. Nobody can help him, even when he asks for it.  His family abandons him.  His doctors shuffle him around not solving the problem.  His therapist just tries to sell him books.

What oppression is more grievous than that a soul seeking the truth, and wishing to attain unto the knowledge of God, should know not where to go for it and from whom to seek it?  – Bahá’u’lláh

Cotard has no clue, and so he pours himself into his art.  Art can be a wonderful thing.  It can uplift the soul.  It can increase knowledge.  But what Cotard does is essentially use his art for his ego.  He wins this prestigious MacArthur genius grant right when his life is falling apart and thinks it can redeem him.  Instead his play becomes him playing God and recreating his life over and over again, getting deeper and deeper into himself and his neuroses and it doesn’t work.  He finds no solace.  He finds no audience.  He finds no answers.

Cast away, O people, the things ye have composed with the pen of your idle fancies and vain imaginings … Idle fancies have debarred men from the Horizon of Certitude, and vain imaginings withheld them from the Choice Sealed Wine. – Bahá’u’lláh

Instead decades go by, he ages as he suffers and as his relationships disintegrate more and more due to his inability to view the world outside of himself and outside of his pain.  He becomes completely self centered.  There is a glimmer of hope near the end when he and Hazel finally work out there issues, and she states what may seem like a throw away line, but I think reaches at the heart of the matter about how it was the first time she’d seen him think about someone other than himself.

And finally the true ending when he is too tired of all his directing and decides to play another role, to step into another person’s life.  It is here that he can see that another has pain, another disappointment, and he can finally find comfort in feeling for another, rather than himself.

Millicent Weems: What was once before you – an exciting, mysterious future – is now behind you. Lived; understood; disappointing. You realize you are not special. You have struggled into existence, and are now slipping silently out of it. This is everyone’s experience. Every single one. The specifics hardly matter. Everyone’s everyone. So you are Adele, Hazel, Claire, Olive. You are Ellen. All her meager sadnesses are yours; all her loneliness; the gray, straw-like hair; her red raw hands. It’s yours. It is time for you to understand this.
– From the film

And I think this is why I had such a problem with the film, why it did not sit well with me, and that’s because this is a half truth.  It reaches the culmination of understanding that we are all connected, that we are all unified and we need to get over the ego of self, but it only focuses on the negative, on the disintegration.  This is everyone’s experience, but not everyone’s complete experience and because of this it is bleak.

Where is joy? Where is beauty? Where is love? Where is God?  The word was only first mentioned an hour into the film in passing, and then indirectly and derogatorily by Hazel “We send the kids to Christian school.  It’s Derek’s idea, I don’t believe in that stuff”, and then in the end at a funeral when a priest preaches pretty much the exact opposite message that a cleric would.  This is a world without God, without religion (in the true sense of the word), and it shows.  It shows in all the social dysfunction and ill portrayed in the film.  People are amoral.  They abandon each other.  They use one another.  They cause each other suffering. If this is everyone’s experience than what are we all doing wrong for it to be this horrid?

Some people argue that this is the world as it is, and on some level they are right.  People have abandoned the teachings of the great faiths, have stopped fearing God, stopped loving God, and stopped following God and in doing so have created even more pain and suffering.  They have corrupted many forms of religion and turned them into self-serving political machines, or an isolationist club, in the image of themselves instead of God’s so that even labeling oneself religious does not necessarily free you from this Kaufmanesque view of the world.

Instead if we distill the message from the major faiths it is this: Love.  Put others before yourself.  Humble yourself.  Be compassionate.  Show this love through deeds.  Love everyone, even the people you don’t like, nay, especially the people you don’t like because it’s not about you, and it’s not about your opinion. They probably need the love even more so.

We can hardly blame Cotard because he was not shown love so he could not really learn how to love.  He is constantly looking for someone to follow, but has no adequate model.  However, this is why we have the examples of Buddha, of Jesus, of Baha’u’llah and Abdu’l Baha.  They show us what true selfless love can be so we can follow there model, so that the world won’t devolve into Synecdoche, New York.

synecdoche |siˈnekdəkē|
noun
a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa, as in Cleveland won by six runs (meaning “Cleveland’s baseball team”).

-from the Apple dictionary.

In this case of this film Caden Cotard represented the whole.  Let’s change that.  Let’s make it one of these great teachers, who shows us how to love, and how to suffer with grace instead of despair.


La Vie en Rose — Crisis and Victory

La Vie en Rose Movie PosterFilm:

La Vie en Rose (French title: La môme), 2007

Starring Marion Cotillard and Gérard Depardieu.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

In this biopic, director Olivier Dahan creates a loving portrait of legendary Parisian singer Edith Piaf (played by Marion Cotillard in an Oscar-winning performance), whose passion for music saw her through a life filled with tragedy. The film follows the chanteuse from her forlorn childhood in a brothel to her big break at Louis Leplée’s (Gérard Depardieu) nightclub and her premature death at age 47. Sylvie Testud and Pascal Greggory co-star.

My Thoughts:

I love learning, and through this film I felt that I learned a lot.  I had absolutely no idea what this movie was about, even after watching Marion Cotillard accept an Oscar for her performance in it, but decided to check it out.  I am glad I did because it is important to experience and learn about people who have strongly influenced culture beyond one’s own nation.

It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

This film focuses around the life of Edith Piaf, a famous French singer, and her life filled with tragedy and beauty.  She went through more hardships in the first decade of her life than I probably have yet.  Edith was born to a cabaret singing mother, and a father who was serving in the army during World War I.  Her mother was an alcoholic who would often leave her alone, or on the street when she performed.

When he father returned from the war he took Edith away from her mother, and deposited her with her grandmother who was the matron of a brothel.  Edith then lived in the brothel, when she got an infection which left her blind for most of her childhood.  The women of the brothel saved money to take Edith on pilgrimage to the shrine of St. Theresa where they prayed for healing for Edith so that she could regain her sight, which she eventually did, and this incident left her with a life long faith in St. Theresa whom she would pray to when times continued to get rough.

O thou maid-servant of the Blessed Perfection! Be thou not sad, neither be thou unhappy, although the divine tests are violent, yet are they conducive to the life of the soul and the heart. The more often the pure gold is thrown into the furnace of test, the greater will become its purity and brilliancy and it will acquire a new splendor and brightness. I hope that thou art thyself in such a position.

Consider thou the lives of the former sanctified souls; what tests have they not withstood and what persecutions have they not beheld; while they were surrounded with calamities they increased their firmness and while they were overwhelmed with tests they manifested more zeal and courage. Be thou also like unto them. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
The tests did not end there.  Edith had grown fond of these women, who, despite the infamy of their trade and the desperation that brought them to it, had cared for her and showed her love and compassion.  Then her father returned pulling her away to join him on the road where he worked as a contortionist for the circus.  Again Edith adapted, and grew to like the circus, when her father quit do to an argument with the owner.  Again, Edith was forced to abandon something she loved for a life of a street performer.  This was a theme in her life, loss and abandonment.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? Why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning?  ~Psalms 22:1
However it was through this event that she was able to discover her gift.  When on the street as her Dad performed, one day the crowd wanted the girl in the act.  Not knowing what to do she sang the French national anthem.  Her voice was strong and endearing.  The crowd applauded vigorously and tossed coins her way.  She soon learned to sing for her supper.
Music is God’s gift to man, the only art of Heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to Heaven. ~ Walter Savage Landor
It took her 10 more years of singing on the street and in cabarets, getting mixed up with pimps and ruffians, before he luck turned (for a little while at least).  She was discovered by a night club owner, Louis Leplée, who was able to give her a steady paycheck and audience, and save her from a life on the street.  But, like every good thing in Edith’s life it was soon taken away.  Louis Leplée was murdered, most likely from the mafia, and connections Edith had made on the street.  This was a real tragedy for her as Leplée had been her savior of sorts, and unintentionally she had gotten him killed.
O SON OF MAN! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more. ~ Bahá’u’lláh
This would not be the last time she grieved for an untimely death.  Later, once she became even more professionally successful through connections Louis had made for her, her lover died in a plane crash.  Already used to self-medicating through the use of alcohol, this event through her into a life long alcoholism which contributed to a car crash she was in that left her arthritic and in pain, contributing to cycle of addiction.  We find out later that this love of her life, Marcel, shared a name with the only child Edith bore, a daughter named Marcelle, who died at the age of two from Meningitis, back when Edith was still living on the street.
Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved. The soul that is attached to anything, however much good there may be in it, will not arrive at the liberty of Divine union. For whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for until the cord be broken, the bird cannot fly.
~ St. John of the Cross
It was music that was able to get her through the tough times.  Edith loved to bring joy to the faces of the people in the audience.  Her music was also a catharsis as she commissioned ballads that dealt with the suffering she had faced, as well as those to uplift.  Even when she was dying from liver failure, she bolstered up the strength to sing one last time at the Olympia a song which summed up her life, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, translated as No Regrets:
No, nothing at all, I regret nothing at all
Not the good, nor the bad. It is all the same.
No, nothing at all, I have no regrets about anything.
It is paid, wiped away, forgotten.
I am not concerned with the past, with my memories.
I set fire to my pains and pleasures,
I don’t need them anymore.
I have wiped away my loves, and my troubles.
Swept them all away.
I am starting again from zero.

No, nothing at all, I have no regrets
Because from today, my life, my happiness, everything,
Starts with you!

Edith may not have always made the best choices.  She was human, and she dealt with a lot of suffering, in mostly two ways- the healthy: music, and the unhealthy: alcohol.  Her alcoholism and addiction to pain medication, was both tragic and yet understandable considering the repeated loss in her life of every person she loved, and both the physical and emotional pain she had to bear.  Her love for music is what kept her alive and kept her from thoughts of suicide, and without music she did not want to live.  She would take shots of painkillers to have the strength to go on stage after the car accident that left her crippled.  The doctors were conflicted knowing that her performing was killing her, but also knowing that it was keeping her spirit alive and giving her the will to go on.  I think there is a lot to learn from here and a lot to think about when we live our own lives, as well as when we see others making choices that perhaps we do not fully understand.  We cannot know fully the suffering others go through, but in Edith’s case, she was able to channel her suffering into her art and bring beauty into the world through her music.


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.

He’s Just Not That Into You — Relationships and Marriage

He's Just Not That Into You Movie PosterFilm:

He’s Just Not That Into You, 2009

Starring Gennifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Connolly, and Scarlett Johansson.

Synopsis (from the movie’s official website):

Based on the wildly popular bestseller from Sex and the City scribes Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, He’s Just Not That Into You tells the stories of a group of interconnected, Baltimore-based twenty- and thirtysomethings as they navigate their various relationships from the shallow end of the dating pool through the deep, murky waters of married life, trying to read the signs of the opposite sex… and hoping to be the exceptions to the “no-exceptions” rule.Gigi just wants a man who says he’ll call–and does–while Alex advises her to stop sitting by the phone. Beth wonders if she should call it off after years of committed singlehood with her boyfriend, Neil, but he doesn’t think there’s a single thing wrong with their unmarried life. Janine’s not sure if she can trust her husband, Ben, who can’t quite trust himself around Anna. Anna can’t decide between the sexy married guy, or her straightforward, no-sparks standby, Conor, who can’t get over the fact that he can’t have her. And Mary, who’s found an entire network of loving, supportive men, just needs to find one who’s straight.

If you’ve ever sat by the phone wondering why he said he would call, but didn’t, or if you can’t figure out why she doesn’t want to sleep with you anymore, or why your relationship just isn’t going to the next level… he (or she) is just not that into you.

My Thoughts:

I am very glad this movie was made, and that the book it was based on was written.  While I may not agree with every point of view shared in it, I think it opens up a dialog that America needs to start having.  After all, our divorce rate is over 50% meaning that something is just not clicking when it comes to forming healthy, stable relationships.  So many of our romantic comedies fuel this notion of “the spark” and do not really address compatibility beyond a superficial level.  While this movie too has it’s trivialities, there are parts of it that head towards that conversation, of how we can improve relationships.

One of the first things addressed in the film is the fact that we all lie to each other. In my last review I talked about the importance of truthfulness and how it is the foundation of all human virtue, and this film also wrestles with this theme.  The film uses examples like “If he treats you badly it means he likes you!”  While these are “white lies” in reality they are not harmless.  They set up up for pursuing or maintaining abusive relationships.  We mean to console and to encourage, but instead we set each other up for bigger romantic disappointment, as well as cause us to spend more time and energy pursuing people that are not right for us.

That being said, we are all beautiful, wonderful people trying hard to live in this world of struggle, and handling rejection is tough.  But there needs to be a way we can encourage each other without lying to one another.  Someone can be smart and beautiful and a good person, and a guy or girl might not be attracted to them and that’s ok.  By saying “You intimidate them [the object of affection” it gives false hope.

The film also does recognize the importance of patience and persistence.  Sometimes you can meet the right person at the wrong time and it is difficult to navigate those waters.  This is why it is all the more important to have friends who are honest with you, that you can consult and learn with, who can balance kindness with honesty.

What I also like about this romantic comedy is that it addresses various stages of a relationship, from the pursuit of one and it’s fragile beginnings, to a long term relationship, to a crumbling marriage.  So many movies of this genre  just focus on the beginning, “the magic spark” and leave out all the other parts.  One married couple has to deal with the pain deception and adultry can bring.  There is a reason why adultry is condemned in pretty much every religion, as well as in secular legal codes, and this film shows the pain it can cause to *all* parties involved, not just the innocent spouse.

It also addresses getting married for the wrong reasons.  Bradley Cooper’s character felt like he had to get married because “If you date a girl too long and don’t marry her you are a jerk”.  Instead he decided to be even more of a jerk by lying and cheating.  His wife clearly did not know how he felt about the marriage or she probably would not have married him.  Sometimes we want a relationship so much we do not even realize that we are settling, or that its foundation is not firm, and that it is doomed for failure.  It is good to see this relationship in contrast with Gennifer Goodwin who is single and wants to find love.  You can see how even if you manage to “trap” one of the guys who are “Just not that into you”, it’s really no good for you in the long run.

There are even more learnings to be had from Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck’s relationship.  They’ve been dating for 7 years and living together a long time but are not married and this is causing angst for Aniston.  Affleck gives the old “why pay $40 for a piece of paper?” line.  It is understandable in this age of skyrocketing divorce rates why someone would be skeptical of marriage, and I too am skeptical of the way most American marriages take place.  That being said, true marriage, what it is meant to be and not what it has been diluted into, is extremely important.  It can help lower anxiety and allow two people to grow and learn together in a safe and committed environment.  Getting that “piece of paper” helps keep one accountable.

Aniston finally has enough and breaks up with Affleck, under the stress of her younger sister getting married.  It is not until her father has a heart attack that she is able to see the importance of good relationships.  All of her 3 sister’s husbands sit in front of the TV watching football.  They do not help with cleaning or with getting food for her ailing father and while her sisters cry and console one another she is left managing the entire house, alone.  When she goes out to the store she returns to find Affleck having cleaned the entire kitchen, and done the laundry.  He was not asked to do this, and they weren’t even together any more, but her loves her and knows that she would need help during this trying time.  She is able to compare her sisters’ husbands to Affleck and realizes that even though he does not want to get married he has a good character.

This is something we do not usually see in films, assessment of the character of the love interests.  Here she is able to see Affleck’s compassion, his level of responsibility, and how good a person he is.  She realizes that their relationship was stronger than most marriages and takes him back.  However, because Affleck has a good character and truly loves Aniston he can learn and realizes how important marriage is to her, so even though he doesn’t “need the paper” because he is committed to her and understands how important it is to her, he decides to propose and marry her.

This also illustrates the importance of communication.  Aniston had felt that way for 5 of the 7 years they were together, but was afraid of losing him and therefore did not speak her heart and instead was living in anxiety.  Love is more than just a feeling, it is action.  Love is a verb.  Relationships are more than just romance, but involve doing the dishes and managing chores, and if we do not address these more mundane aspects it can lead to resentment and relationships crumbling.

While the characters all had various opinions and views on relationships and were at various stages in their lives, they talked and consulted with one another and this is good.  Of course, my big criticism would be the lack of spirituality in any of these relationships, and the secularization of marriage in general.  There is something to be said about recognizing the sacred nature of marriage.  People often talk of sacrifice in marriage, and they see it as compromise, however one definition of sacrifice is to make sacred.

Finding someone that holds the same value you do toward the relationship, and toward marriage is important and this is actually a lesson addressed in the film.  It may seem like a cliche, but many guys are not into commitment.  If that is what you want then pursuing someone who does not share that desire will never work, and this is what Justin Long continually counsels Gennifer Goodwin.  That being said, we should not be disheartened and we should keep Gennifer Goodwin’s hope and optimism because they are not only attractive but lead to a much happier life.

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?