Home Alone — Christmas and Family

Film:

Home Alone, 1990

Starring Macaulay Culkin, Joe Pesci, Daniel Stern, Catherine O’Hara, John Heard, and John Candy.

Synopsis (From Netflix):

Families suck. That’s the opinion of 8-year-old Kevin McCallister (Macaulay Culkin), whose family unwittingly leaves him behind when they go on vacation. In no time, Kevin makes the most of the situation, watching forbidden flicks and pigging out on junk food. But when a pair of bungling burglars (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern) set their sights on Kevin’s house, the plucky kid stands ready to defend his territory — by planting booby traps galore!

My Thoughts:

When my sister suggested we watch a Christmas movie last night we mulled over which to choose.  Did we want some holiday romance with Love Actually, or a Christmas class like Miracle on 34th Street?  Should we watch our annual favorite A Christmas Story?  Instead we dug out an old VHS of Home alone, a movie neither of us had seen in a good 15 years.  I had remembered it being hilarious as a child, with all the booby trapping, but what I had forgot was the poignant messages hidden within this glitzy comedy.  This film not only entertained but spoke to the importance of family, of forgiveness, and of not listening to rumors but seeking out the truth for oneself.

Happy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveller, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!  ~ Charles Dickens

I think we have all been where Kevin has at one point in our lives.  We let the annoying habits of our loved ones blind us to how much we actually love and appreciate them.  We also can be blinded by prejudice, like Kevin was with his neighbor due to rumors about him being a serial killer.  Instead the neighbor turned out to be a kind old man who was looking to reconnect with his family but didn’t know how.

I think this is something we can all work on, patience and forgiveness.  These two virtues are things that if Kevin and his family had had for one another at the beginning of the film then perhaps he wouldn’t have been home alone.  But patience and forgiveness are tough.  They involve letting go of the ego, and becoming humble, as well as putting others’ needs before our own.

It is also lucky that Kevin was home alone, since burglars had decided to target his house.  One of the great things about this comedy was how responsible Kevin had become when home alone.  After initially partying and going hog-wild, he got bored of that, and instead he went grocery shopping, cleaned the house, put up decorations, did laundry, and practiced hygiene all without adult supervision.  Pretty impressive for an eight-year-old.

“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 there from.”
— Baháʼuʼlláh

I think this speaks to the power of being given responsibility.  Kevin was the baby of the family and everyone treated him that way to the point where he wasn’t confident that he could pack his own suitcase as nobody was willing to take the time to teach him.  But when given responsibility he was able to rise to the occasion.  So often we are our own gatekeepers from success and achievement.  If we can’t believe we can do something we won’t try.  And if people are telling us we can’t we can make the mistake of listening.  But when Kevin was alone he had to learn to be self reliant and in doing so realized he didn’t have to be a baby anymore.

O MY SERVANT! Free thyself from the fetters of this world, and loose thy soul from the prison of self. Seize thy chance, for it will come to thee no more. ~Baháʼuʼlláh

Another wonderful moment in this film is when Kevin is running away from the bad guys, and seeks asylum at the church.  This is where he meets up with his neighbor and talks to him for the first time without being scared, and overcomes his prejudice.  Kevin and the old man were able to help each other recognize love and overcome fear. I find it comforting to have a positive portrayal of a church in a Christmas film.  So often Christmas comedies seem to leave out the religious aspect of this holiday.  But Christmas is a time that reminds us to look past our differences, religious or otherwise, and come together.  This scene showed that beautifully.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. ~ 1 John 4:7-12

And then there is the happy reunion of the family, which really is just delightful.

We have caused thee to return to thy home as a token of Our mercy unto thy mother, inasmuch as We have found her overwhelmed with sorrow. We have enjoined you in the Book “to worship no one but God and to show kindness to your parents”. Thus hath the one true God spoken and the decree hath been fulfilled by the Almighty, the All-Wise. Therefore We have caused thee to return unto her and unto thy sister, that your mother’s eyes may thereby be cheered, and she may be of the thankful. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

So with that I wish those who celebrate (religiously or secularly) a Merry Christmas!  For those who do not observe, Happy Friday!  and to everyone a wonderful new year!

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Magnolia — Overcoming the Sins of the Father

Film:Magnolia Poster

Magnolia, 1999

Starring Tom Cruise, William H. Macy, John C. Reilly, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Felicity Huffman, Philip Baker Hall, and Alfred Molina.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

24 hours in L.A.; it’s raining cats and dogs. Two parallel and intercut stories dramatize men about to die: both are estranged from a grown child, both want to make contact, and neither child wants anything to do with dad. Earl Partridge’s son is a charismatic misogynist; Jimmy Gator’s daughter is a cokehead and waif. A mild and caring nurse intercedes for Earl, reaching the son; a prayerful and upright beat cop meets the daughter, is attracted to her, and leads her toward a new calm. Meanwhile, guilt consumes Earl’s young wife, while two whiz kids, one grown and a loser and the other young and pressured, face their situations. The weather, too, is quirky. Written by {jhailey@hotmail.com}

My Thoughts:

This film is dark, and sad, and clever.  Through out it one of the themes I picked up on was how “sins of the father” affect the children.  Various characters suffered abuse, abandonment, and molestation at the hands of their fathers leaving them angry, depressed, and struggling.  The film even quoted scripture regarding it.

“And he walked in all the sins of his father, which he had done before him: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God”  1 Kings 15:3

I remember watching this film when it first came out and really hating it.  I realize now that what I disliked was the tragedy caused by the actions of the fathers in this film.  The film reveals how much pain and suffering there is, and how so much of it we put onto each other.  Frank T.J. Mackey, abandoned by his father, and left to take care of his dying mother, rewrote his own history.  Ironically, he became a misogynist and used women just as badly if not worse than his father did.  Jimmy Gator left his daughter a neurotic, self-loathing, drug abuser by the worst sin of a father, sexual molestation.

“If love and agreement are manifest in a single family, that family will advance, become illumined and spiritual; but if enmity and hatred exist within it destruction and dispersal are inevitable” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

We see evidence in this film of family disunity and how destructive it can be.  Often the rift starts between the married party and then effect the children.  Several characters had committed infidelity.  In one scene Linda Partridge (Julianne Moore) broke down in tears lamenting how she did not love her husband when she married him, and just wanted his money, and so she had constantly been unfaithful.  Now that they had been together for a while, and he was dying she realized she truly did love him and because of that could not possibly take a cent from the will.  The lawyer told her that adultery was not illegal.  That did not comfort her because either way it was wrong.

“Every other word of Bahá’u’lláh and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s Writings is a preachment on moral and ethical conduct; all else is the form, the chalice, into which the pure spirit must be poured; without the spirit and the action which must demonstrate it, it is a lifeless form.  When we realize that Bahá’u’lláh says adultery retards the progress of the soul in the after life – so grievous is it – and that drinking destroys the mind, and not to so much as approach it, we see how clear are our teachings on these subjects.” ~ From a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi.

I think this scene was an incredibly potent one and points to how often the people who suffer most by committing a wrong against someone is not the victim but the perpetrator.  God has given us spiritual guidance, whether it be the 10 commandments, or the Laws of Bahá’u’lláh, or the Middle Path of Buddhism, that is meant to protect us from ourselves.  These laws actually free us from the pain we would suffer by not following them.  This film shows that pain, whether it is through drug use, sexual impropriety, or not being a good parent.

It also shows how important honesty and truthfulness are.  Many characters were both not honest with themselves or with others, but despite trying they could not hide from the truth for long.  While most of the film was dark and forlorn, there was a glimmer of hope in two story lines, one of which touched upon the importance of kindness and the other of truth.

Stanley, a quiz kid genius has had a lot of pressure to deal with.  While it is not explicitly stated, he lives in a single parent household with his father.  His father is often on his case, and picks him up from school late.  He brings him to the game show and is more excited about the prospect of Stanley winning a lot of money, than for his actual wellbeing.  Stanley is a good kid.  He is under a lot of pressure, and because he arrived late to the studio was not able to go to the bathroom before the show started.  He is on a role answering every question, until his bladder fails him.  Mortified he sits like a statue and no longer participates.  He realized that everyone was really just using him.  The show for ratings, his father for the potential payout, and he is left forlorn.  It is hard to see a child experience disillusionment, but in the end Stanley stands up for himself telling his father that he has to be nicer to him.  Stanley has the potential not to fall in the same trap Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) did, and for this there is hope.

“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”  ~Mark Twain

The other hopeful story consists of an unlikely match.  Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly) and Claudia Partridge (Melora Walters) met through a disturbance call.  He was a cop and she a drug-addled victim of abuse.  She spent the beginning trying to hide the fact of her drug use from him.  However, the cop liked her anyway and asked her on a date.  He was a Christian and prayed to God regarding meeting this woman.  In fact, they showed him in prayer more than once, and he was the only character in the film portrayed with any faith.

As they went on their date the woman asked if he ever lied on dates, because he was afraid the other person would not like the truth.  Or even if he hadn’t lied, maybe left important things out.  He said that was natural, and tried to waylay her fears.  She then said they shouldn’t do that.  They should be honest and tell their secrets.

“Truthfulness is the foundation of all the virtues of the world of humanity. Without truthfulness, progress and success in all of the worlds of God are impossible for a soul. When this holy attribute is established in man, all the divine qualities will also become realized.” ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

She clearly was trying to get up the courage to admit her addictions and seek help.  She told him she thought he would hate her, because he was so together, and such a good person, and she was not.  He then comforted her by admitting that he had lost his gun that day and was now the laughing stock of the entire police force.  He too made mistakes.  She then kissed him and ran off, chickening out.  At the end of the film though, there is another scene with them together, and the cop is talking about how people have great capacity to forgive and to help each other through times of trouble, and she smiles.

She was onto something about honesty and he was onto something about help and forgiveness, and trying not to be judgmental.  It is through these two characters, and the healing power of faith and listening to divine guidance that this film has a sliver of hope to it.

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?

Groundhog Day — The Day That Never Ends

Film:Groundhog Day Movie Poster

Groundhog Day, 1993

Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

In this offbeat comedy from director Harold Ramis, self-centered TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is sent to Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover the groundhog’s annual appearance. Loathing the event, Connors unleashes his bitterness on his producer (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman (Chris Elliott). The next day, however, Connors finds he’s doomed to repeat Groundhog Day — again and again — until he learns that his actions can affect the outcome.

My Thoughts:

First I would like to thank a reader for suggesting I review this film.  I decided to wait until Groundhog Day as it is only fitting.  Groundhog Day is an American tradition, and more particularly a Pennsylvanian one at that, so I was not suprised when I looked for the movie poster to find that in French the title was translated as “Un Jour Sans Fin” loosely “The Day without end”.  I liked that title since it more aptly describes the content of the film, but I am glad this film is about and titled  Groundhog Day, since it has now become a semi-annual tradition to watch it (it is that good).

This film addresses many spiritual concepts through the amazing humor of the Bill Murray/Harold Ramis team.  Weatherman Phil Connors starts off as a bitter, frustrated man, one whom even the audience would not sympathize akin to Scrooge (another Bill Murray role interestingly enough).  He has made it known that he hates Punxsutawney and Groundhog Day and instead of holding that in, he unleases his annoyance on everyone from his coworkers to the friendly Bed and Breakfast owner.  He gets his comeuppance though, when he is doomed to relive the day over and over.

I love this settup because it is something we all frequently face.  When we are unhappy or displeased is it really fair or just to try to make everyone else around us miserable as well?  Yet sometimes we do just that.  It is not endearing.  It does not make us truly feel any better because the circumstances that influenced our mood have not changed.  Instead it makes it harder for our fellow people.  And in doing that we lose their sympathy.

Phil Connors did just that in Groundhog Day, so when he woke up to relive the day all over he was stuck with the situation as it was and had to live with it.  There was no choice.  Is that not how life is every day?

At first Phil was disbelieving, and then he was downright depressed.  He tried committing suicide a myriad of ways only to wake up again the morning of Groundhog Day.  Again, this really intrigues me because suicide is a topic so scary, sad, yet fascinating.  The World Religions council against it, but since we all do not truly know what happens after death we can never truly understand the consequences of this action.  In this film it was moot, it did not help at all.  In others, like Wristcutters which I will review in the future, the consequence was to return to a world just like ours except that the soda is always flat and people couldn’t smile.

Phil also tried stealing cars and robbing banks, but that too did not make the day go away.  Finally he set about to capture the heart of his producer Rita.  This was not an easy task considering how awfully he had treated her before.  He had to transform himself.  Again, a spiritual notion, for what is the purpose of religion if not transformation?

At first his attempts to change are superficial.  He tries to learn things about her, like her love of poetry and her favorite ice cream flavor, so that he can charm her but he still is manipulative which is not part of a noble character, which both she and God/the Fates/the Universe can see through.

It is when he began to think of others instead of himself that life began to change.  He would save a boy from falling out of a tree, and tried hard to save an old homeless man from dying.  He cultivated the talent of piano playing, and auctioned himself off for charity.  He apologized to people he had wronged. – things he never would have done the “first” Groundhog Day.

And in the end he did win the girl, and he did finally wake up on February 3rd, and throughout the process he made both his world and the world around him better.

“The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds and through commendable and seemly conduct.” ~Bahá’u’lláh

This is something we can all do.  It isn’t fiction.  It isn’t “just another movie” but an expression of something I think is much more fundamental.  We worry about World Peace, but is this not the path to it?  Each person doing their small part to improve, however meagerly, themselves and in doing so, the world around them.


Your thoughts?

The Wedding Dress (TV) — Hope and Expectations

Film:The Wedding Dress DVD Cover

The Wedding Dress (TV), 2001

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

Synopsis (From NetFlix):

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

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

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

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

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

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

::Spoilers may leak out beyond this point::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dolores Claiborne — Prejudice, Justice, Truth, and Forgiveness

Film:Dolores Claiborne Poster

Dolores Claiborne, 1995

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

Synopsis (from IMDB):

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

My Thoughts (SPOILERS!!):

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

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

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

But is it the truth?  Was it a crime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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

Your Thoughts?

MirrorMask — Our Dual Nature

Film:MirrorMask Poster

MirrorMask, 2005

Starring Stephanie Leonidas and Jason Barry


Synopsis (from IMDB):

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ `Abdu’l-Bahá

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

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

Your thoughts?