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?

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He’s Just Not That Into You — Relationships and Marriage

He's Just Not That Into You Movie PosterFilm:

He’s Just Not That Into You, 2009

Starring Gennifer Goodwin, Justin Long, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Affleck, Drew Barrymore, Jennifer Connelly, Bradley Cooper, Kevin Connolly, and Scarlett Johansson.

Synopsis (from the movie’s official website):

Based on the wildly popular bestseller from Sex and the City scribes Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo, He’s Just Not That Into You tells the stories of a group of interconnected, Baltimore-based twenty- and thirtysomethings as they navigate their various relationships from the shallow end of the dating pool through the deep, murky waters of married life, trying to read the signs of the opposite sex… and hoping to be the exceptions to the “no-exceptions” rule.Gigi just wants a man who says he’ll call–and does–while Alex advises her to stop sitting by the phone. Beth wonders if she should call it off after years of committed singlehood with her boyfriend, Neil, but he doesn’t think there’s a single thing wrong with their unmarried life. Janine’s not sure if she can trust her husband, Ben, who can’t quite trust himself around Anna. Anna can’t decide between the sexy married guy, or her straightforward, no-sparks standby, Conor, who can’t get over the fact that he can’t have her. And Mary, who’s found an entire network of loving, supportive men, just needs to find one who’s straight.

If you’ve ever sat by the phone wondering why he said he would call, but didn’t, or if you can’t figure out why she doesn’t want to sleep with you anymore, or why your relationship just isn’t going to the next level… he (or she) is just not that into you.

My Thoughts:

I am very glad this movie was made, and that the book it was based on was written.  While I may not agree with every point of view shared in it, I think it opens up a dialog that America needs to start having.  After all, our divorce rate is over 50% meaning that something is just not clicking when it comes to forming healthy, stable relationships.  So many of our romantic comedies fuel this notion of “the spark” and do not really address compatibility beyond a superficial level.  While this movie too has it’s trivialities, there are parts of it that head towards that conversation, of how we can improve relationships.

One of the first things addressed in the film is the fact that we all lie to each other. In my last review I talked about the importance of truthfulness and how it is the foundation of all human virtue, and this film also wrestles with this theme.  The film uses examples like “If he treats you badly it means he likes you!”  While these are “white lies” in reality they are not harmless.  They set up up for pursuing or maintaining abusive relationships.  We mean to console and to encourage, but instead we set each other up for bigger romantic disappointment, as well as cause us to spend more time and energy pursuing people that are not right for us.

That being said, we are all beautiful, wonderful people trying hard to live in this world of struggle, and handling rejection is tough.  But there needs to be a way we can encourage each other without lying to one another.  Someone can be smart and beautiful and a good person, and a guy or girl might not be attracted to them and that’s ok.  By saying “You intimidate them [the object of affection” it gives false hope.

The film also does recognize the importance of patience and persistence.  Sometimes you can meet the right person at the wrong time and it is difficult to navigate those waters.  This is why it is all the more important to have friends who are honest with you, that you can consult and learn with, who can balance kindness with honesty.

What I also like about this romantic comedy is that it addresses various stages of a relationship, from the pursuit of one and it’s fragile beginnings, to a long term relationship, to a crumbling marriage.  So many movies of this genre  just focus on the beginning, “the magic spark” and leave out all the other parts.  One married couple has to deal with the pain deception and adultry can bring.  There is a reason why adultry is condemned in pretty much every religion, as well as in secular legal codes, and this film shows the pain it can cause to *all* parties involved, not just the innocent spouse.

It also addresses getting married for the wrong reasons.  Bradley Cooper’s character felt like he had to get married because “If you date a girl too long and don’t marry her you are a jerk”.  Instead he decided to be even more of a jerk by lying and cheating.  His wife clearly did not know how he felt about the marriage or she probably would not have married him.  Sometimes we want a relationship so much we do not even realize that we are settling, or that its foundation is not firm, and that it is doomed for failure.  It is good to see this relationship in contrast with Gennifer Goodwin who is single and wants to find love.  You can see how even if you manage to “trap” one of the guys who are “Just not that into you”, it’s really no good for you in the long run.

There are even more learnings to be had from Jennifer Aniston and Ben Affleck’s relationship.  They’ve been dating for 7 years and living together a long time but are not married and this is causing angst for Aniston.  Affleck gives the old “why pay $40 for a piece of paper?” line.  It is understandable in this age of skyrocketing divorce rates why someone would be skeptical of marriage, and I too am skeptical of the way most American marriages take place.  That being said, true marriage, what it is meant to be and not what it has been diluted into, is extremely important.  It can help lower anxiety and allow two people to grow and learn together in a safe and committed environment.  Getting that “piece of paper” helps keep one accountable.

Aniston finally has enough and breaks up with Affleck, under the stress of her younger sister getting married.  It is not until her father has a heart attack that she is able to see the importance of good relationships.  All of her 3 sister’s husbands sit in front of the TV watching football.  They do not help with cleaning or with getting food for her ailing father and while her sisters cry and console one another she is left managing the entire house, alone.  When she goes out to the store she returns to find Affleck having cleaned the entire kitchen, and done the laundry.  He was not asked to do this, and they weren’t even together any more, but her loves her and knows that she would need help during this trying time.  She is able to compare her sisters’ husbands to Affleck and realizes that even though he does not want to get married he has a good character.

This is something we do not usually see in films, assessment of the character of the love interests.  Here she is able to see Affleck’s compassion, his level of responsibility, and how good a person he is.  She realizes that their relationship was stronger than most marriages and takes him back.  However, because Affleck has a good character and truly loves Aniston he can learn and realizes how important marriage is to her, so even though he doesn’t “need the paper” because he is committed to her and understands how important it is to her, he decides to propose and marry her.

This also illustrates the importance of communication.  Aniston had felt that way for 5 of the 7 years they were together, but was afraid of losing him and therefore did not speak her heart and instead was living in anxiety.  Love is more than just a feeling, it is action.  Love is a verb.  Relationships are more than just romance, but involve doing the dishes and managing chores, and if we do not address these more mundane aspects it can lead to resentment and relationships crumbling.

While the characters all had various opinions and views on relationships and were at various stages in their lives, they talked and consulted with one another and this is good.  Of course, my big criticism would be the lack of spirituality in any of these relationships, and the secularization of marriage in general.  There is something to be said about recognizing the sacred nature of marriage.  People often talk of sacrifice in marriage, and they see it as compromise, however one definition of sacrifice is to make sacred.

Finding someone that holds the same value you do toward the relationship, and toward marriage is important and this is actually a lesson addressed in the film.  It may seem like a cliche, but many guys are not into commitment.  If that is what you want then pursuing someone who does not share that desire will never work, and this is what Justin Long continually counsels Gennifer Goodwin.  That being said, we should not be disheartened and we should keep Gennifer Goodwin’s hope and optimism because they are not only attractive but lead to a much happier life.

The Wedding Dress (TV) — Hope and Expectations

Film:The Wedding Dress DVD Cover

The Wedding Dress (TV), 2001

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

Synopsis (From NetFlix):

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

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

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

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

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

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

::Spoilers may leak out beyond this point::

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Film:P.S. I Love You Poster

P.S. I Love You, 2007

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

Synopsis (From IMDB):

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

My Thoughts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your thoughts?

The Women — Infidelity, Gossip, and Backbiting

Film:The Women Movie Poster/DVD Cover

The Women, 1939

Starring: Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell, and Joan Fontaine

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

George Cukor directs an all-female cast in this catty tale about battling and bonding that was edgy for its time — and is considered the ultimate women’s movie of the 1930s. Norma Shearer, Joan Crawford, Rosalind Russell and other Hollywood leading ladies are among the array of husband-snatchers, snitches and lovelorn ladies who argue and gossip about each other at astonishing breakneck speed throughout the film.

My Thoughts (NO spoilers 🙂 ):

I’ve received some critiques regarding the length of my posts, so I am going to try to be brief and get to the ethical punch with this post and cut out the plot points and summary that could ruin it for those who haven’t seen the movie.  All plot issues I do discuss stem from what is seen in the first 5 minutes so do not worry.  I haven’t seen the remake, though I’d like to when it comes out on DVD, but I’m told that most of it is the same, except the ending due to the changes in US divorce law since 1939.

The first thing one would notice in this film is the fact that it is all women… 130 of them… and not a single male!  Even the animals in the movie are the female of the species.  Pretty cool.  That is, until you realize that none of these women are of exemplary character (except maybe Mary and her daughter).

From the very beginning gossip and backbiting are a huge theme of the film, and it is through witnessing how pervasive it is with this crowd that we can see just how damaging these behaviors are.  There was so much buzz around Mean Girls regarding this, but “frenemies” are nothing new.  It makes the following Hidden Word all the much more understandable:

O FRIEND! In the garden of thy heart plant naught but the rose of love, and from the nightingale of affection and desire loosen not thy hold. Treasure the companionship of the righteous and eschew all fellowship with the ungodly.

It does not say to condemn or judge the ungodly, but merely warns against interacting with them, and this film surely echoes that.  Mary already had a heartbreaking issue to deal with, her husband’s infidelity, but this was compounded exponentially by The Women she interacted with.  While the problem would not have disappeared without the wagging tongues, it certainly would not have been magnified.  Mary would only have to deal with her husband’s betrayal, not the betrayal of her social companions, as well as their judgments and scorn.

O SON OF MAN! Breathe not the sins of others so long as thou art thyself a sinner. Shouldst thou transgress this command, accursed wouldst thou be, and to this I bear witness.

a.k.a. Don’t judge lest ye be judged…

Even Mary succumbs to the behavior of her peers but it really just serves to amplify others pain rather than to ameliorate her own.

Another issue in the film is how some of the characters treat marriage and love.  For Mary marriage was about love, but for many others it was about economics and financial security, or about a status symbol.  For some it was even a game, about what could be taken away from other women.  That vindictiveness serves nobody.  As for Stephen, though we never see him, we know he also confused lust for love in his interactions with Crystal.  Physical and spiritual love are two separate things, and unfortunately in English we are limited by the catch all term “love” that has so many meanings.

Marriage, among the mass of the people, is a physical bond, and this union can only be temporary, since it is foredoomed to a physical separation at the close.

Among the people of Bahá, however, marriage must be a union of the body and of the spirit as well, for here both husband and wife are aglow with the same wine, both are enamoured of the same matchless Face, both live and move through the same spirit, both are illumined by the same glory. This connection between them is a spiritual one, hence it is a bond that will abide forever. Likewise do they enjoy strong and lasting ties in the physical world as well, for if the marriage is based both on the spirit and the body, that union is a true one, hence it will endure. If, however, the bond is physical and nothing more, it is sure to be only temporary, and must inexorably end in separation.

~ `Abdu’l-Bahá

So what should we take away from the film?  That we need to be better than that, especially us women.  Even though it was Stephen who was unfaithful, the entire emphasis of the film was on the women.  Blame needs to be put where it is due, which is not simply on the “other woman” but on the man who made the choice to betray his marriage vows.
Also, our behavior, even if it seems like it is behind closed doors, is observed and commented on.  While each of us can and should control our own tongues, we cannot control the tongues of other people which is why our comportment is all the more important.  Mary learned this lesson when she succumbed to ill behavior, which was what the gossipers were waiting for.  It is hard to be held to such a high standard, but people notice both the good and the bad.  In fact, it was because Mary was so happy that Sylvia took so much delight in dismantling it in the first place.  That being said just because others are devious does not mean we shouldn’t strive to transcend that.

Your thoughts?

Dolores Claiborne — Prejudice, Justice, Truth, and Forgiveness

Film:Dolores Claiborne Poster

Dolores Claiborne, 1995

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

Synopsis (from IMDB):

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

My Thoughts (SPOILERS!!):

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

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

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

But is it the truth?  Was it a crime?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

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

Your Thoughts?

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? — Interracial Marriage

Film:

Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner? 1967

Starring Sidney Poitier, Spencer Tracy, and Katharine Hepburn.

Synopsis:

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.

My Thoughts:

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?