The Blind Side — Love & Charity

Film:

The Blind Side, 2009

Starring Sandra Bullock, Tim McGraw, Kathy Bates, and Quinton Aaron.

Synopsis:

The story of Michael Oher, an homeless and traumatized boy who became an All American football player and first round NFL draft pick with the help of a caring woman and her family.

My Thoughts:

What makes this movie so amazing is that it is based on a true story.  It is a story of what happens when people actually choose to live out their religious beliefs, when they take action. So often we see news of religious conflict, but it is really comforting to see when religion can be a source of inspiration for people to commit amazing acts of kindness and love beyond expectations.

This story began when a Christian private school was counseled to live up to the name Christian and help the struggling, homeless Michael Oher to attend.

What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead  ~ James 2:14-17

Leigh Ann Touhy and her family took it to the next level when they took Michael Oher in, fed him, clothed him, and helped him to succeed. And in doing so they learned to better appreciate the luxury they had taken for granted, as well as time with each other as a family, which prior to meeting Michael they had not.

O SON OF MY HANDMAID! Guidance hath ever been given by words, and now it is given by deeds. Every one must show forth deeds that are pure and holy, for words are the property of all alike, whereas such deeds as these belong only to Our loved ones. Strive then with heart and soul to distinguish yourselves by your deeds. In this wise We counsel you in this holy and resplendent tablet. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

What Michael went through many more people in society go through then we would care to admit.  But unlike Michael often these people do not receive a helping hand.  Instead those in healthy, wealthy communities isolate themselves.  How can we as a society work to eradicate poverty, to provide opportunities for all?  How can we overcome our fears?  Especially when they are legitimate, like living in a place of violence.

Michael had developed a coping mechanism for dealing with living in an unsavory situation, full of drugs, addiction, violence, and crime.  He closed his eyes.  He closed his eyes and waited for the problem to dissipate so that when he opened them again the world would be bearable.

O MAN OF TWO VISIONS! Close one eye and open the other. Close one to the world and all that is therein, and open the other to the hallowed beauty of the Beloved. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

I think this is something we can all learn from.  All the bad things in life can be overwhelming, especially if we focus on them.  If instead we close our eyes to them, and instead open our eyes to the beauty in the world we can move from that darkness to light.  I am not saying we just ignore the bad, but instead try to transcend it and not let it bring us down.  Michael was able to do that.  He could have been to proud to accept the help of the Touhys but he wasn’t.  He opened his eyes to their love and chose it over the path he could have taken.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13


Grapevine Fires — Love and Loss

It is the end of the semester for me, so I’ve been caught up in papers and final projects and have been neglecting the blog.  My birthday recently passed and my wonderful sister sent me the new Death Cab for Cutie EP on iTunes.  It came with this music video which I just watched and it made me cry.  It is such a sad and beautiful story based on the wildfires that happened in California a little while back.  It really got me thinking about how in times of tragedy communities come together in solidarity.  When events like 9/11 or Katrina or the Tsunami happen the silver lining is that you get to see the love people have for one another and the sacrifices they are willing to make to help each other out.  So please enjoy this video.

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 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

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

Film:P.S. I Love You Poster

P.S. I Love You, 2007

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

Synopsis (From IMDB):

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

Slumdog Millionaire — Love Overcomes Adversity

Film:

Slumdog Millionaire, 2008

Starring Dev Patel, Anil Kapoor, and Frieda Pinto

Synopsis (from Fox Searchlight Pictures):

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

My Thoughts (SPOILERS!):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

National Treasure: Book of Secrets — The Great Search

Film:

National Treasure: Book of Secrets, 2007

Starring Nicolas Cage, Justin Bartha, Dianne Kruger, Ed Harris, Jon Voight, and Helen Mirren.

Synopsis (From NetFlix):

Benjamin Franklin Gates (Nicolas Cage) and Dr. Abigail Chase (Diane Kruger) — who found riches and romance at the end of their first hunt for national treasure — reteam with their wisecracking partner in crime, Riley Poole (Justin Bartha), for another romp through U.S. history. Now, armed with a stack of long-lost pages from John Wilkes Booth’s diary, Ben is obsessed with finding the truth behind President Abraham Lincoln’s assassination.

My Thoughts (There be spoilers this way):

While this film is what you would expect from a big budget sequel to a knock-off of the Davinci code, because the main characters are heroes with a sense of mission and purpose there is actually a lot one can analyze about their choices and the virtues they exhibit, as well as the vices held by the ‘bad guys’.  I am going to ignore all the historical inconsistencies and anachronisms because this is a work of fiction after all, and focus on the metaphor and motivation behind the characters actions.

First off, Ben Gates is motivated to investigate the truth.  He wants to clear his great-great-grandfather’s name from being alleged a Lincoln Assassignation Co-conspiritor with John Wilkes Booth.  Even though in the end of the film a great cultural treasure is found that is not the motivation of Gates’ search.

There are many people throughout their lives who exhibit this quality of ‘seeking’ which the Gates family portrays.  We seek enlightenment, we seek belonging, we seek knowledge, we seek happiness.  Some people are more easily contented than others, and perhaps are not driven by this need to ‘find’ whatever it is they are driven to search for.  In Persia there is actually a famous story of Majnun (the name means crazy) who searches everywhere for his Beloved Layli.  Bahá’u’lláh counsels that:

” One must judge of search by the standard of the Majnún of Love. It is related that one day they came upon Majnún sifting the dust, and his tears flowing down. They said, “What doest thou?” He said, “I seek for Laylí.” They cried, “Alas for thee! Laylí is of pure spirit, and thou seekest her in the dust!” He said, “I seek her everywhere; haply somewhere I shall find her.” Yea, although to the wise it be shameful to seek the Lord of Lords in the dust, yet this betokeneth intense ardor in searching. “Whoso seeketh out a thing with zeal shall find it.” ”

I think the Gates’ purity of motive (to validate the truth) and follow wherever it leads (to Paris, London, The Library of Congress, or Mount Rushmore) is what enables them to find what they are looking for in the end.  The writers and producers may not have consciously intended the film to exhibit spiritual consequences, but in order to make a hero act like a hero he has to have those virtues praised for in the religious and philosophical texts that have shaped our world.  When Gates’ and crew actually find the City of Gold in the underground caves of the Black Hills of South Dakota, there are many tests of this purity.

At first there does not seem to be any gold, but just stone carvings in a large cavern.  Gates’, and his mother & father, are curiously trying to investigate, while Riley, Abigail, and Wilkinson (the ‘bad guy’ played by Ed Harris) are distracted by the only gold idol in the whole place.  As they approach it the floor shifts and they are propelled through a trap door into a potential pit of death.

“He is My true follower who, if he come to a valley of pure gold, will pass straight through it aloof as a cloud, and will neither turn back, nor pause.” ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Because the Gates’ Family had purity of motive they hadn’t fallen for the trap, whereas Wilkinson did not, and both Riley and Abigail were temporarily seduced by potential fame and fortune.  Luckily for them Ben Gates’ jumped into the trap with them in order to be of service.  He was willing to endure hardship in order to protect his friends and even his rival.

At this point they all land on a giant square slab.  They soon discover that this slab is balanced on a pinacle and that they must cooperate to balance otherwise they could all fall to their deaths.  Again another moral lesson. Cooperation is necessary in order to survive.

They soon find a ladder that is out of reach, and in order to reach it, they must manipulate the slab to tilt like a see-saw, at great risk to whomever is on the bottom end.  Wilkinson, realizing he is outnumbered and fearful of retribution, threatens everyones life by messing up the balance, insisting he must go first.  They heroes let him, and Ben, realizing that the math works out that somebody has to stay behind, offers to sacrifice himself so that the others will live.

Abigail won’t accept this, and instead finds a giant gold pillar and throws it onto the slab to counterbalance Ben’s weight so that he too can reach the ladder.  This gold pillar was probably worth millions, but Abigail didn’t give it a second thought learning her lesson about value.  By practicing the virtue of detachment she is able to reciprocate and save Ben’s life.

Detachment comes back later when the heroes, the bad guy, and the parents reunite in a drained, underwater palace.  There is no way out except by following where the water drains.  Ben’s father Patrick, without missing a beat, throws some dollar bills into the water to watch where the current takes them.  Sure, you may argue that to save your life you would be detached from riches too, but I think the lack of hesitation is admirable in both the case of the pillar and the money.  The heroes didn’t even pause long enough for the audience to realize what they were throwing away, indicating how purely they were driven by doing right by each other.

In the end, Ben again wants to sacrifice himself to save the others, but through freak circumstances Wilkinson is left in the position to make the sacrifice.  He laments that after all this he will not be able to get the recognition of discovering this massive archeological wonder and treasure city.  Ben assures him that he will tell the world, and does, despite the fact that Wilkinson tried to sully his great-great-grandfathers name.  Again, this shows Ben’s commitment to the truth.  Without Wilkinson’s help they would not have been able to find this place, and though Wilkinson was misguided (he could have just asked Gates to help him instead of motivating him by slandering his family name) he too made the right choice in the end.

Our hero had his flaws, and learned from his partners that his confidence was bordering on arrogance, and that he left others behind when he was mentally steps ahead of them in solving puzzles, but in the end he exhibited a pure commitment to the truth, and a realization of the downfalls of the ego, as well as the importance of cooperation, trust, persistence.

This may have seemed like a popcorn flick on the outside, but with open eyes I think it is not a stretch to see the moral choices and struggles these characters had to go through as well as to think about how we all can exhibit these qualities we revere in our heroes.