Blog Action Day 2010: Water

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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.

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED — Innovation, Hope, Cooperation, and Hardwork

Film:The Future We Will Create Movie Poster

The Future We Will Create: Inside the World of TED, 2007

Starring Daphne Zuniga, Al Gore, Rick Warren, Peter Gabriel, Larry Brilliant, Marjora Carter and others.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Hailed “the hottest gathering in the world” by Wired magazine, TED (Technology Entertainment Design) is an annual event where an eclectic group of brilliant minds exchange bold ideas for the future. Actress Daphne Zuniga is your host on this all-access tour of the conference. Guests include former Vice President Al Gore, musician Peter Gabriel, environmentalist Majora Carter, as well as comedians, authors and innovators from around the world.

My Thoughts:

I love TED.  I had never heard of this conference nor this documentary about it before NetFlix recommended it and I am so thankful it did (I am beginning to see a theme here… I promise not to gush too much about NetFlix any more… I just as frequently discover great films from my library and from friends).  Ok, back to the point.  Apparently TED is this great conference by invite only, in which technical innovators, scientists, artists, and social advocates come together to both speak about what they have been doing as well as to help each other achieve their dreams to better the world. The people who attended TED seem to live this mantra:

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“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Mahatma Gandhi
All these ideas were mind blowing.  There was an architect there who was working to design open source plans for developing countries so that they can build safe, efficient, sustainable, and inexpensive homes, schools, and clinics.    There was a medical scientist who had helped with the UN mission to eradicate smallpox and was now working on preventing a bird flu pandemic.  There was an 11-year-old violin virtuoso, and a beat poet.  The found of one laptop per child.  The list goes on an on.
There was such diversity of thoughts, of methods, of action, and yet such love and respect for one another here.  Whether scientist or artist, religious or atheist, these people all came together with the goal of changing the world for the better.  They were united by a common purpose which reminded me of this beautiful passage:
Consider the flowers of a garden: though differing in kind, colour, form and shape, yet, inasmuch as they are refreshed by the waters of one spring, revived by the breath of one wind, invigorated by the rays of one sun, this diversity increaseth their charm, and addeth unto their beauty. Thus when that unifying force, the penetrating influence of the Word of God, taketh effect, the difference of customs, manners, habits, ideas, opinions and dispositions embellisheth the world of humanity.
This diversity, this difference is like the naturally created dissimilarity and variety of the limbs and organs of the human body, for each one contributeth to the beauty, efficiency and perfection of the whole. When these different limbs and organs come under the influence of man’s sovereign soul, and the soul’s power pervadeth the limbs and members, veins and arteries of the body, then difference reinforceth harmony, diversity strengtheneth love, and multiplicity is the greatest factor for co-ordination. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá
What I didn’t realize was that Bono’s One Campaign was born from TED.  And even though the conference is invite-only, it is not exclusive but has an outward orientation.  Anyone can access and watch the speakers from their website.  This film of the conference really made me beam because it speaks to how much through education, hardwork, and cooperation we really can work together to solve the World’s problems.  This conference was all about unity.
So powerful is the light of unity that it can envelop the whole earth.
~Bahá’u’lláh
I can’t help but stress it enough.  Al Gore spoke of global warming which is a global problem.  But Rick Warren, a respected Christian minister also spoke.  Both religion and science recognize the power behind a united purpose.
1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. ~ Ephesians 4:1-6
Or from a scientific point of view:
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“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
Albert Einstein
Perhaps my thoughts have been all over the place, but I highly suggest you check out TED.  The great thing about the conference is that it was a mix of the biggest ideas, as well as ideas that are actually working, on the ground, right now to make the world better.
Your thoughts?

WALL-E — Honoring our environment and ourselves

Film:WALL-E Movie Poster

WALL-E, 2008

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

One must work on what is not yet there.

One must put in order what is not yet confused.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My lover spoke and said to me,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

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.