Enjoy this slammin’ poem!
Synopsis (from the film’s homepage):
In every corner of the globe, we are polluting, diverting, pumping, and wasting our limited supply of fresh water at an expediential level as population and technology grows. The rampant overdevelopment of agriculture, housing and industry increase the demands for fresh water well beyond the finite supply, resulting in the desertification of the earth.
Corporate giants force developing countries to privatize their water supply for profit. Wall Street investors target desalination and mass bulk water export schemes. Corrupt governments use water for economic and political gain. Military control of water emerges and a new geo-political map and power structure forms, setting the stage for world water wars.
We follow numerous worldwide examples of people fighting for their basic right to water, from court cases to violent revolutions to U.N. conventions to revised constitutions to local protests at grade schools. As Maude Barlow proclaims, “This is our revolution, this is our war”. A line is crossed as water becomes a commodity. Will we survive?
In the whole world there is nothing softer and weaker than water.
And yet nothing measures up to it
In the way it works upon that which is hard.
Nothing can change it.
Everyone on earth knows
That the weak conquers the strong
And the soft conquers the hard —
But no one is capable of acting accordingly.
~Tao Te Ching, II:68
Watch this film now. It is available on Netflix Instant, through iTunes, or Amazon On Demand. Humans need fresh water. Without it we will die. Yet water is increasingly being treated as a commodity, privatized, and being controlled by water cartels. Why are we giving away water only to have it sold back to us? We are using our groundwater faster than we can replace it. It takes 24 gallons to make one microchip. 117 gallons to make a banana. This is a global problem. It’s effecting agriculture, development, global warming. There are corporations that make money cleaning up pollution and therefore don’t want to prevent it.
This is an ethical, moral, and social problem. Until we recognize that we are a united world, that water unites us but as it becomes scarce if we don’t work together we will end up fighting. Already water scarcity has effected the West Bank issue. It’s effected the relationship between Egypt and Sudan. And in Bolivia and in Tamil Nadu… yet often these resource wars are presented as religious or ethnic wars. (To see a map of water conflicts click here)
Everyone needs water and water is central to life, regardless of race or faith. The hydrological cycle connects us all. There are reasons that throughout the Holy Writings of every religion that water is used as a spiritual metaphor due to its power in this world.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. ~ John 3:5
When in the Gospels, Christ speaks of ‘water’, He means that which causes life, for without water no worldly creature can live—mineral, vegetable, animal and man, one and all, depend upon water for their very being. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
O servants! Ye are even as saplings in a garden, which are near to perishing for want of water. Wherefore, revive your souls with the heavenly water that is raining down from the clouds of divine bounty. ~ Bahá’u’lláh
As a lotus flower is born in water, grows in water and rises out of water to stand above it unsoiled, so I, born in the world, raised in the world having overcome the world, live unsoiled by the world ~ The Buddha
We need to come together to solve this water problem by recognizing each others humanity. In order to become ‘unsoiled’ we must work together, live more sustainably, and overcome the greed that leads to abuse of water use. Please meditate on what you can do and the choices you can make to help us deal with the growing problem of water.
Starring Billy Crudup, Malin Akerman, Jackie Earle Haley, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, and Patrick Wilson.
Synopsis (from IMDB):
In a gritty and alternate 1985 the glory days of costumed vigilantes have been brought to a close by a government crackdown, but after one of the masked veterans is brutally murdered an investigation into the killer is initiated. The reunited heroes set out to prevent their own destruction, but in doing so discover a deeper and far more diabolical plot.
I am the type of person that enjoys lighthearted films, films that make me laugh and pick me up, films that inspire. That being said, sometimes gritty, raw, and dark films can also inspire. Watchmen is definitely a downer, as one can tell from the opening credits as the heroes fall from favor as society turns against them and they must go into hiding. But there is a lot we can learn from these dark emotions that Watchmen so artfully invokes.
I have talked about justice before, but this film focuses so heavily on it that I feel it is important to discuss again. In an ideal society government would function in a way to serve and protect its citizens. Unfortunately in this universe, during World War II society needed assistance. The Watchmen formed and were initially heralded as heroes, though soon were villianized as vigilantes.
Much of this had to do with the Watchmen wearing masks. This anonymity gave the appearance of a lack of accountability as the public rallied crying “Who watches the Watchmen”?
O SON OF BEING! Bring thyself to account each day ere thou art summoned to a reckoning; for death, unheralded, shall come upon thee and thou shalt be called to give account for thy deeds. ~ Bahá’u’lláh
Accountability is important. Afterall the film, as well as the graphic novel it is based on, showed that there were reasons for the people to be weary of the Watchmen. They were just people too, afterall, and while some had noble intentions, others, like the Comedian, acted on more base instincts.
But the film does not stop on the surface level of accountability. As we can see in the current economic crisis, people without masks can be just as wreckless as those who remain hidden. In the movie this comes to light through the one living Watchman who had “gone public”. He was viewed honorably and as a hero and a successful businessman, but he turned out to be the most deadly of all, whereas others like Night Owl had a strong moral compass that kept them accountable even masked.
I think that is a lesson we can all take to heart in our own lives and meditate on the true meaning of accountability. For those who believe in God,ultimate accountability rests in His hands. I think Watchmen really plays with the idea of loss of accountability. This distopia lacked God, it lacked government, it lacked a social contract. In that system it is little wonder that Ozymandias could see the sacrifice of several million people for peace as valid. We can see how tragedy can unite people, and through unity peace can be achieved. Maybe it was valid argument, but Ozymandias does not have the right to make that choice.
How can we build unity? In a way that does not resort to destruction like it did in Watchmen. I see this movie, and graphic novel as warning, a look into a world unchecked. Some people see our world like that, but it does not have to be. We can make good choices, and keep ourselves accountable.
I think I will end this post with a beautiful story from Persian culture about another Watchman. I think it has a lot to do with seeing the end in the beginning, which was a theme of this film as well. Rorschach could see there was something wrong before the others could, but he could not see the end as quickly as he would have liked. Ozymandias believed the end was just. Dr. Manhattan withdrew from humanity. The difference, or perhaps similarity if you share Ozymandias’ point of view, is that the end in this scenario is good. Perhaps the people should have listened to the Watchman, which watchman is up to you. Without further ado, the story as recounted by
The Visitor, 2007
Starring Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, and Hiam Abbass.
Synopsis (from NetFlix):
Widowed professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins, in an Oscar-nominated role) discovers an immigrant couple, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), squatting in his Manhattan flat and becomes wrapped up in their lives when Tarek is thrown into a detention center. A wonderful Hiam Abbass co-stars as Tarek’s mother, who forges an unlikely connection with Walter. Director Thomas McCarthy’s indie drama was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards.
My Thoughts (warning… after paragraph one there be spoilers):
First of all, wow. When I finished watching this movie I wanted to run and hug every member of my family. Unfortunately nobody was home. This movie does not sugar coat. I would still call it a “feel good” movie, despite it’s painfully realistic ending, and highly recommend it to all who have not seen it. It is an example of when art can transcend and speak to the soul, at least for me. And with that, onto the content and discussion.
The film opens with scenes from Walter’s (Richard Jenkins) life. It becomes pretty clear early on that he is a sad and isolated person, a widower who has not gotten over his wife’s death and has been living much of his life on auto-pilot. I think this can happen to a lot of us, especially in grief. Depression runs rampant in America as we all struggle to connect, to find our place and purpose in life. It can be overwhelming to feel so alone.
He strives to learn the piano, which we discover later was his late wife’s instrument. Music is his way of reaching out and trying to stay connected, and when he fails to perfect the piano his hope seems lost. People often talk about the power of music, and it is true that it can uplift us.
We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high… ~
It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth is but one country, and mankind its citizens. ~
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
In this modern world, with global travel and the internet, everyone has become our neighbors. We may not be able to solve the large problems, after all the security became tight in response to terrorism, but we can work on the small ones. Tarik did by helping Walter through a difficult time, and through showing love and compassion. Walter did the same by trying his best to support Tarik, even if all he could do was visit.
There are small things we can all do, whether it is visiting a neighbor, or trying to learn more about other cultures and peoples, that can help the world through this time of transition. We are no longer tribes, or even countries, but the world as one, and this film tried to wrestle with a topic we are all wrestling with in one way or another.
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
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.” ~
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.” ~
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.
The Motorcycle Diaries, 2004
Starring Gael García Bernal and Rodrigo De la Serna
Synopsis (From Netflix):
This film tells the incredible true story of a 23-year-old medical student from Argentina, Che Guevara (Gael Garcia Bernal), who motorcycled across South America with his friend Alberto Granado (Rodrigo de la Serna) in 1951-52. The trek became a personal odyssey that ultimately crystallized the young man’s budding revolutionary beliefs. Walter Salles’s film is based on Che’s own diaries of the trip.
This is a film that is bursting with content and themes, and I could probably write a whole book on it (considering it was based on the diaries of both Ernesto and Alberto) however there are a few themes that run throughout this movie which I’d like to focus on- integrity, injustice, and erasing borders.
From the beginning of the film we could see that Ernesto “Che” Guevera had integrity. This was exhibited by how hard it was for him to lie. When he and Alberto lost their tent and they needed a place to stay they came across and old man who asked if they really were doctors, and if so could they examine him. Ernesto did and it became clear that the man had a tumor. Alberto wanted to play it off as something they could treat in exchange for room and board, but Ernesto knew this was a man’s life and health and had to tell the truth.
Ernesto was also given US$15 from his girlfriend in order to purchase a bathing suit. Alberto would constantly harass him for the money which he held on to because of the promise he had made to her. He knew that the money was not his, but merely in his possession.
“They who dwell within the tabernacle of God, and are established upon the seats of everlasting glory, will refuse, though they be dying of hunger, to stretch their hands and seize unlawfully the property of their neighbor, however vile and worthless he may be.” ~Bahá’u’lláh
However as the film progressed, the two men were tested over and over as their motorcycle failed, as people turned on them for being Argentinian instead of from Chile, when Ernesto’s girlfriend married someone else, and as they witnessed injustice when meeting the impoverished. A poignant moment transpired when the two men met an impoverished couple whose land had been taken away and were looking for work:
The Wife: Are you looking for work too?
The Wife: Then why are you traveling?
Ernesto: We are traveling to travel
The Wife: Well bless your travels
It was a strong moment because despite how hard this journey had been, with the crashes, and the snow, and the failing cycle, it was still voluntary. Ernesto realized these were hard working people that were not traveling by choice, whereas he was a a med student taking off from med school to travel around. We find out later that he ended up giving this couple the precious money, most likely because he realized he would never see his former girlfriend again.
When the men reach Peru they begin to see how unjustly the indigenous have been treated. They stand at Machu Picchu and cannot believe that these people who could create such beauty and had such a powerful grasp of science and mathematics were overtaken by the Spanish by guns. Alberto is so moved that he decides he should marry an indigenous and start an Indigenous Party to fight for their rights via a peaceful revolution. Ernesto replies that a revolution without guns would never work, a sad moment for both the film and for the world as we can see how much revolutions with guns were also ineffective and painful throughout Latin American history (and history in general).
Their journey takes them to a leper colony and this is where the themes come together and Ernesto experiences the most growth. This colony is literally divided by a river. All the sick live on one side of the river, cast out by their families, and all the healthy people (the doctors, the nurses, the nuns, and other workers) on the other. The rule is to wear gloves even though lepers in treatment are not contagious. Ernesto and Alberto refuse to wear them and treat the lepers with dignity, as if they are people and not contagions. It is this dignity that both men have learned to see in every human being on their journey. It transcends national, ethnic, class, or social boundaries. It is also why Ernesto chooses to swim across the river the night of his birthday, when the boats have stopped running. He wants to celebrate with the lepers as well as the healthy.
“Take pride not in love for yourselves but in love for your fellow-creatures. Glory not in love for your country, but in love for all mankind. Let your eye be chaste, your hand faithful, your tongue truthful and your heart enlightened.” ~Bahá’u’lláh
And Ernesto was onto something. These borders we have put up (of country, of class, of whatever) are fake. How do we erase the artificial borders? How do we unite humanity? Not through guns and violence which “Che” unfortunately tries to do later on, but through the actions he took during this film. Through treating people with dignity, by respecting that we are all human and therefore of the same stock and should be listened to and honored. By practicing the virtues of truthfulness and honesty in order to build trust. By traveling and actually meeting other people and learning all the gifts they can share. People in the film dismissed him as an idealist, and that is something Baha’is are also often labeled as, but these actions can have positive results and did in the lives of Alberto and Ernesto.
Starring Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn.
The movie concerns Joanna Drayton, a young white American woman (Houghton) and a man with whom she’s had a whirlwind romance, Dr. Prentice (Poitier), an African American she met while on a holiday in Hawaii. As the movie opens, they’re at the San Francisco Airport preparing to tell her parents, Matt (Tracy) and Christine (Hepburn)Dayton their plans: to marry and live in Switzerland.
Kramer and Rose intentionally debunked ethnic stereotypes; the young doctor was purposely created idealistically perfect so that the only possible objection to his marrying Joanna would be his race, or the fact she only met him nine days earlier. He has graduated from a top school, begun innovative medical initiatives in Africa, refused to have premarital sex with his fiancée despite her request, and leaves money on his future father-in-law’s desk in payment for a long distance phone call he has made.
The plot is centered on Joanna’s return to her liberal upper class home overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Her mother, while surprised, is supportive from the beginning, but her father isn’t buying the marriage. He is joined in his concerns by the family retainer Tillie (Sanford) and the young Doctor’s father (Glenn), a retired postal worker who flies up to Los Angeles for dinner.
The action builds to a stirring speech by the father, the last by Tracy on film.
Forty years after it came out this movie may seem dated. So much so that Hollywood felt it necessary to loosely remake it with Ashton Kutcher (I love you Ashton, but you are no Sidney Poitier). But upon the heels of the recent US Presidential Election I think its important to reflect on how far we’ve come regarding race relations and how much further we have to go. I’m not the first who has seen the similarities between the characters in this film and the parentage of the US President-Elect. For more on that check out this NY Times article.
Even at the time of the film one might be more concerned with the speed of the marriage (having only known each other ten days and needing an answer that night before they fly off to NYC and then to Geneva) then the race difference, but let’s factor that out and just chalk it up as a plot device to get the action going. There were some interesting remarks throughout the film that I think particularly important to note upon. The first was said by Dr. Prentice (played by Sidney Poitier) regarding why he fell in love with Joanna.
Dr. Prentice “It’s not that our color difference doesn’t matter to her, it’s that there is no difference to her”
I think this is an important quote to piece apart, because there are different levels to it. On a fundamental level there is no difference among us because we are all God’s creatures and are all endowed with spiritual capacity, and so every person should be able to befriend anyone and talk with anyone and connect with anyone because of that inherent unity of us all being people. That being said, we do have differences, and those differences should not be erased. They are what make us beautiful. I think the following quote illustrates the thought well:
“Let us look rather at the beauty in diversity, the beauty of harmony, and learn a lesson from the vegetable creation. If you behold a garden in which all the plants were the same as to form, color and perfume, it would not seem beautiful to you at all, but, rather, monotonous and dull. The garden which is pleasing to the eye and which makes the heart glad, is the garden in which are growing side by side flowers of every hue, form and perfume, and the joyous contrast of color is what makes for charm and beauty.
…”The diversity in the human family should be the cause of love and harmony, as it is in music where many different notes blend together in making the perfect chord. If you meet those of different race and color from yourself, do not mistrust them and withdraw into your shell of conventionality, but rather be glad and show them kindness. Think of them as different colored roses growing in the beautiful garden of humanity, and rejoice to be among them.”
~ ‘Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 52-3.
I want to add that this quote was from the early 1900s. We cannot diminish our differences, nor can we ignore the fact of the history of pain and suffering caused by different races and ethnicities fighting or oppressing one another. Nor can we pretend that it is not still happening today. That being said if we want to change the world, if we want to improve it and to heal these wounds between us, to truly unite humanity then it begins through the actions of people like Joanna Drayton and John Prentice who celebrate their love for one another and the diversity of their backgrounds. Blame will just keep us apart, but we individuals can work to be open minded and to treat all people with love and respect.
This film, in addition to being about an interracial couple, is about a family whose ideals are being tested. The parents, Matt and Christina Drayton (played by Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn) are San Francisco liberals who raised their daughter to believe in the equality of races and yet it had never occurred to them that their daughter would actually want to marry someone of a different race. Then it was time to reflect and each hesitated before confirming their ideals.
I think this happens to us all at some time in our lives. It is easy to espouse an ideal in words, when it is a theory, something that applies to society in general, rather than to ourselves in specific. It is easy to say we will care for our fellow man, but how many people still go hungry? It is easy to say what we believe, but what about acting on what we believe? In this film first Joanna, and then her mother, and finally her father decided to take the step toward action on their beliefs, an action which was easy and natural for Joanna but a bigger challenge for Matt than he would have thought.
This film, as part of the plot, Dr. Prentice required the Draytons to give consent in order for him to marry Joanna. In this modern day many people balk at the idea of children asking for their parents’ consent to marry, and even in the film Mrs. Drayton seemed confused by it. But I think Dr. Prentice had a good point. It would be hard enough for the couple to deal with the prejudices of society and the pressures of the ignorant, to then also have to deal with the disunity in the family. In order to be strong enough to deal with the challenges of an interracial marriage at that time they needed to have the support of their family for peace of mind as well as a haven to return to in times of stress. Asking for consent was a way to build unity in the family, a pre-requisite to building unity in society.
Those are just a few of my thoughts. What are yours?