TiMER — Is ignorance bliss?

If society invented the technology for you to know exactly when you would meet your soul mate would you get it?  This is the question posed in the film TiMER.  In this world science has invented a biotechnological implant that a person can get installed after puberty.  Once installed in sets a timer that counts down to the day you will meet your soul mate.  There are two catches – 1) it does not tell you who it just tells you when and 2) it only works if your soul mate also has one installed.

Imagine the joy and bliss of knowing just when you would meet “the one” and to no longer have to worry about it.  With all the dating websites and self-help books out there, and with the divorce rate being what it is, its clear that some people would find this very enticing.  But like anything, technology is a tool, and what if that tool doesn’t work? Imagine the knowledge that you would not meet your ‘one’ until you were in your 50s, effectively ruling out biological parenthood, or the anxiety and terror of a blank timer, of not knowing.  It would be pretty much exactly how someone would feel today on the dating scene, only add the fact that other people could know for certain… and you don’t.  Would you feel inadequate? Unlovable?

TiMER is a great thought piece, and whether or not you agree with how the characters choose to live their lives, or their reactions to the TiMER, it forces us to think about relationships and how, particularly in western culture, we go searching for ‘the one’.  Music, books, films, and art in general fuel this desire, this longing to find our beloved.  It expresses our longing to seek.

But what is it we are truly seeking?  Because in reality there is no such thing as a ‘soul mate’.  Our soul’s true mate is God, it’s creator, and that is who we long for.  When we try to find that in another person, of course the relationship will struggle because unlike God humans are imperfect.

TiMER makes us think about this notion of ‘the One’ in a warped take on a romantic comedy.  As we watch the characters in the film some reject the notion of the TiMER all together and either never get one, or remove theirs after being unable to deal with the waiting and/or not knowing.

So instead of trying to solve the notion of love through technology, like in the world of the film, how can we go about finding partners in love and creating successful relationships?  What should we look for out there since we are not blessed with knowing ‘when’?  We may not have the TiMER but luckily we have guidance in the Holy Writings to help us find a partner in love and marriage.  Perhaps not “the” one but someone to make a life with, so I leave you with this quote on marriage:

“Bahá’í marriage is the commitment of the two parties one to the other, and their mutual attachment of mind and heart. Each must, however, exercise the utmost care to become thoroughly acquainted with the character of the other, that the binding covenant between them may be a tie that will endure forever. Their purpose must be this: to become loving companions and comrades and at one with each other for time and eternity….
The true marriage of Bahá’ís is this, that husband and wife should be united both physically and spiritually, that they may ever improve the spiritual life of each other, and may enjoy everlasting unity throughout all the worlds of God. This is Bahá’í marriage.”

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

Film:

Synecdoche, New York, 2008

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

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-from the Apple dictionary.

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


500 Days of Summer — What is love?

I figured in the spirit of Valentine’s Day I would pick a romantic comedy and look at how it deals with this confusing notion of love. I picked this film because of it’s tag: “This is not a love story.  It’s a story about love.” Enjoy!

Film:

500 Days of Summer, 2009

Starring: Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel.

Synopsis (from Netflix):

When his girlfriend, Summer (Zooey Deschanel), unceremoniously dumps him, greeting-card copywriter and hopeless romantic Tom (Golden Globe nominee Joseph Gordon-Levitt) begins sifting through the year-plus worth of days they spent together, looking for clues to what went awry. As he recalls the good and bad times he spent with the commitment-phobic girl, his heart reawakens to what it cherishes most. Marc Webb directs this uncommon love story.

My Thoughts:

This film is about these two people, and deconstructs their relationship.  But more importantly it is about this fuzzy notion of love as these two people blindly explore what it is and what it means.  One enters the picture believing in destiny and soul mates and the other enters cynically not believing in love at all, only wanting to have fun.  Near the end their positions on the subject have switched.  However neither extreme is correct.  Neither of these ideas is right.  There is no such thing as a soul mate in the destiny, only-one-for-me sort of way, but love most definitely exists.

Know thou of a certainty that Love is the secret of God’s holy Dispensation, the manifestation of the All-Merciful, the fountain of spiritual outpourings. Love is heaven’s kindly light, the Holy Spirit’s eternal breath that vivifieth the human soul. Love is the cause of God’s revelation unto man, the vital bond inherent, in accordance with the divine creation, in the realities of things. Love is the one means that ensureth true felicity both in this world and the next. Love is the light that guideth in darkness, the living link that uniteth God with man, that assureth the progress of every illumined soul. Love is the most great law that ruleth this mighty and heavenly cycle, the unique power that bindeth together the diverse elements of this material world, the supreme magnetic force that directeth the movements of the spheres in the celestial realms. Love revealeth with unfailing and limitless power the mysteries latent in the universe. Love is the spirit of life unto the adorned body of mankind, the establisher of true civilization in this mortal world, and the shedder of imperishable glory upon every high-aiming race and nation.    ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

At one point Tom is so fed up with love after having his heart broken that he quits his job at a greeting card company blaming the industry, as well as romantic movies, for his unreal expectations.  It is a comic scene but there is deep truth to it.  Just as Summer pointed out that over half of marriages end in divorce (which is why she doesn’t believe in love), our culture has gotten incredibly confused as to what love is, and because of this miss it.

Love is a verb.  It is an action, specifically the act of putting someone else’s needs before your own.  It is something we all should be doing everyday because we should love everyone.  But for some reason we’ve got it into our heads that romantic love is something else, some magic feeling or state, and that once that feeling is gone it is okay to be selfish again.  We fear commitment because we fear the magic leaving, instead of recognizing that we have an opportunity to show love most greatly in a committed relationship.

The Lord, peerless is He hath made woman and man to abide with each other in the closest companionship, and to be even as a single soul. They are two helpmates, two intimate friends, who should be concerned about the welfare of each of each other.

If they live thus, they will pass through this world with perfect contentment, bliss, and peace of heart, and become the object of divine grace and favor in the Kingdom of heaven. But if they do other than this, they will live out their lives in great bitterness, longing at ever moment for death, and will be shamefaced in the Heavenly Realm.

Strive, then, to abide, heart and soul, with each other as Two doves in the nest, for this is to be blessed in both worlds. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

This is what a true soul mate is, but it can be anyone, not just one person.

I think that many of the reasons relationships falter is that humanity is spiritually seeking God but often does not recognize it.  They want eternal, perfect, unconditional love, a love that God can only give, instead of the imperfect, yet beautiful, attempts we humans do.  We turn our significant others into idols whom we worship, and that is not healthy.  When these people turn out to be mere mortals instead of the gods and goddesses we’ve made them out to be the foundation of the relationship is shaken.

This film does a great job of showing just that.  It also shows how much pressure is put upon the person who is being idolized to live up to the impossible standards.  I am glad this movie was a story about love instead of just a love story because these are conversations we need to be having.  The way we think about love, the way we talk about love, and the way we show love is broken.  We see it daily through acts of violence, through dissolution of families.  But through art, through deep contemplation, we can be inspired to change how we view love, to make it the verb it is.

The first sign of faith is love. The message of the holy, divine Manifestations is love; the phenomena of creation are based upon love; the radiance of the world is due to love; the well-being and happiness of the world depend upon it. Therefore, I admonish you that you must strive throughout the human world to diffuse the light of love.

The people of this world are thinking of warfare; you must be peacemakers. The nations are self-centered; you must be thoughtful of others rather than yourselves. They are neglectful; you must be mindful. They are asleep; you should be awake and alert. May each one of you be as a shining star in the horizon of eternal glory. This is my wish for you and my highest hope. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

Your thoughts?

Cape of Good Hope — Love, Compassion, and Race.

Film:

Cape of Good Hope, 2004

Starring Debbie Brown, Eriq Ebouaney, Nthati Moshesh and Morne Visser.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Mark Bamford’s thought-provoking comedy explores the ever-present friction between class, race and faith in modern-day South Africa, tracing the intersection of multiple lives. Although her tiny animal shelter is open to all creatures great and small, Kate still can’t seem to open her heart to romance. Meanwhile, her employees and clientele are in need of rescue themselves.

My Thoughts:

First off, I highly recommend this film.  If you haven’t seen it, please do.  It’s on NetFlix Instant so you could even watch it tonight.  It’s an award winning independent film and deservedly so.

Ok, hyping aside let’s get to it.  The film opens with this quote which is a theme that runs through the movie:

He should show kindness to animals, how much more unto his fellow-man, to him who is endowed with the power of utterance. ~Bahá’u’lláh

South Africa is known for it’s institutionalize Racism in the form of Apartheid and has been working to overcome that negative legacy.  This film focuses on people from a variety of racial backgrounds and classes within South Africa, all of whom are affiliated somehow with the Animal Shelter.  Through the film we are able to see how those of different races, religions, and backgrounds can potentially be united and work together in love and harmony within the staff of the shelter, but then we also see how outside of the shelter there are still tensions and injustices regarding race, class, and religion.  The multi-level “shelter” for both animals and people reminds me of this prayer:

I have wakened in Thy shelter, O my God, and it becometh him that seeketh that shelter to abide within the Sanctuary of Thy protection and the Stronghold of Thy defense. Illumine my inner being, O my Lord, with the splendors of the Dayspring of Thy Revelation, even as Thou didst illumine my outer being with the morning light of Thy favor. ~Bahá’u’lláh

The film is great at using subtlety and metaphor to help unravel these thematic threads.  For example people frequently request pure breeds, whereas the shelter mostly has mutts and mongrels.  The one pure breed it does have at the moment had been trained to attack blacks by it’s previous owner and so is slated to be put down.  However a tenacious Congolese refugee takes the abuse from the animal while treating it with love and eventually is able to get the dog to stop attacking him despite the color of his skin.

The fact that people want pure breeds may seem harmless, but the film shows how that mentality when applied to humans is dangerous.  Overcoming prejudice and injustice are themes throughout the film, and the way this is done is through patience, love and compassion.

Each of the characters goes through tests, each different, but each allows them to make the better choice towards love and unity, or the less good choice towards selfishness and ego.  The characters do not always make the right choice in the beginning, but are able to learn and grow and make better choices by the end of the film.

This movie was fun, but felt real, and showed how it can be done, how we all can learn to be more loving, compassionate, and truth seeking, to overcome our prejudices and our baggage.

Your thoughts?

Afghan — The Effect of Hate Crimes

A friend of mine shared this on her blog, and I wanted to share it with you.  It is a short film called “Afghan” and explores how one victim and his friend try to overcome the situation through art and humor.  Despite all their attempts the atmosphere is somber.  Hate is never really funny even if we try to use humor as a coping mechanism.  Art, like this film, that address issues of hate and injustice help us to build compassion and to think about the effect our actions have on others.  I hope to live a life full of love, because hate, like darkness, can only be expelled through light.

When a thought of war comes, oppose it by a stronger thought of peace. A thought of hatred must be destroyed by a more powerful thought of love. ~‘Abdu’l-Bahá

So with out further ado, the film. 

Home Alone — Christmas and Family

Film:

Home Alone, 1990

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

Synopsis (From Netflix):

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

“Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit there from.”
— Baháʼuʼlláh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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