Sunshine Cleaning — Turning Dirty Work into Service

Sunshine Cleaning PosterFilm:

Sunshine Cleaning, 2009

Starring Amy Adams, Emily Blunt, Alan Arkin, and Steve Zahn.

Synopsis (From IMDB):

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) finds herself a single mother attempting to support her son Oscar (Jason Spevack) and her unreliable sister Norah (Emily Blunt) while working a mundane job as a maid. Once the head cheerleader in school with plenty of prospects, Rose now has little to show for her years, and while she still sees the former lead football player (Steve Zahn), it is little more than a despondent affair. When Oscar is expelled from public school, Rose takes a job as a bio-hazard crime-scene cleaner to help pay for a private education, and brings Norah on to help in her steadily growing business. As the sisters work to clean up the messes left behind by the chaotic lives of others, they must learn to reconcile their own differences and overcome a troubled past if they hope to prosper in their newfound venture.

My Thoughts:

I do not know why I have been attracted to watching films which have centered around death lately.  Perhaps that is what life and spirituality are all about: to prepare us for death and encourage us to make the most of the time we have on earth.

Sunshine Cleaning focusses on people who have struggled with making the most out of life.  It is revealed throughout the film that there are actually a lot of unresolved issues as well as grief- burdens that justifiably have weighed on these very real, and very relatable characters- which explain why it has been hard for them to thrive.  This films does an excellent job of feeling real, like you could actually know these people.  They do not have superpowers, they are not uncommenly witty, things do not work out magically for them.  Instead, they are people like you or me who have to struggle with work and with daily life.

Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams) immediately captures your heart.  She tries to keep upbeat despite having a lousy job, raising a child alone, and having to care for her quirky father, and her nare-do-well  sister.  She is also having an affair with her (now married) high school sweetheart.  Her self esteem has taken quite a beating and her parental and financial troubles are incredibly stressful, yet she does not give up and strives to remain upbeat even if the smile is strained.

Therefore, strive to show in the human world that women are most capable and efficient, that their hearts are more tender and susceptible than the hearts of men, that they are more philanthropic and responsive toward the needy and suffering, that they are inflexibly opposed to war and are lovers of peace. ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

When an opportunity presents itself Rose decides to start her own business and go into Bio-hazard Crime Scene cleaning.  At first she has no idea what she is doing, but with the help of her sister and a friendly Janitorial Supply Store owner, she is able to build it up.  She decides to call the business “Sunshine Cleaning” which is indicative of her outlook.  Crime scenes are messy.  They are full of blood and often other vile things like rotting food or trash.  People look at what she does as morbid.  Yet Rose looks past that to the good, of being able to help people through a hard time and making the world a little better and easier for them.

“We come into people’s lives when they’ve experienced something profound.  And we help. In some small way, we help.” ~ Rose Lorkowski (Amy Adams)

This is really what I would like to focus on, how to Rose this is not just a job, it’s a service.  It is a way she can show people love and compassion.  Crime scenes are not easy deaths.  She cleans up homicides and suicides, and there are people left behind in shock dealing with the tragedy.  This is juxtaposed with her prior job cleaning homes of the privileged, of partying college students.  While is is the same skill set, the same technical job, cleaning the homes of the dead and removing the bio-hazards and evidence of crime takes it to another level.  Any job we do, whether maid, doctor, accountant, or engineer, can be transformed into a spiritual experience when we think of the people we are serving and put them first.  Rose did just that.

The education of each child is compulsory…. In addition to this wide-spread education each child must be taught a profession, art, or trade, so that every member of the community will be enabled to earn his own livelihood.  Work done in the spirit of service is the highest form of worship…  ~ ‘Abdu’l-Bahá

And she discovered this profession in a time of her own desperation.  Her son was given the ultimatum to go on behavior modifying drugs or be kicked out of school.  She knew that drugging her son was not the answer and wanted to put him in a school that would better cater to his learning differences.  Out of love for him she tried a new job, despite her misgivings, and discovered her love for it and the people she was able to help.

Unfortunately it was almost all taken away from her when there was fire which brunt down a clients house.  Rose had been waiting for the results of her certification exam before purchasing insurance for her business, hoping a good result would lead to lower rates and therefore had no safety net.  She was devastated to watch everything she had worked for, literally, go up in flames.

O SON OF MAN! Should prosperity befall thee, rejoice not, and should abasement come upon thee, grieve not, for both shall pass away and be no more. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Another thing we learned in this film is the strength of family, because her father ended up sacrificing his own home to help her start a new Crime Scene Cleanup business.  By selling his house he was able to show how much he loved her, how much faith her had in her capacity, and how much he thought her business (and the service it provided)  was worth.

Word must be conjoined with deed. You must love your friend better than yourself; yes, be willing to sacrifice yourself… I desire that you be ready to sacrifice everything for each other, even life itself…   ~’Abdu’l-Bahá

Watching this film made me ask myself: Am I ready to serve?  Am I ready to truly sacrifice?  On this earth we all have a part to play, and what I do know is that I too am not living to my fullest capacity.  I could serve with a pure heart more often, and sacrifice my time, means, and energy more fully, and help to bring a little more love and a little more peace to this world.  So often when we talk about peace we think big, ending wars, but wars are just social ills scaled upward.  In the Lorkowski family there were internal wars that needed a peaceful resolution.  So often when we talk of love we talk of romance, but love is more than that.

I charge you all that each one of you concentrate all the thoughts of your heart on love and unity. 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.  Thoughts of war bring destruction to all harmony, well-being, restfulness and content. Thoughts of love are constructive of brotherhood, peace, friendship, and happiness. ~’Abdu’l-Bahá

I can do these two things.  I can conquer my thoughts of hate with thoughts of love, and I can overcome thoughts of war with thoughts of peace, and maybe in doing that bit by bit day by day, I like Rose can make the world a little better.

Your Thoughts?

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?

Cashback — Boredom, Sexuality, and Beauty

Cashback Movie PosterFilm:

Cashback, 2006

Starring Sean Biggerstaff and Emilia Fox.

Synopsis (from IMDB):

When art student Ben Willis dumps his girlfriend Suzy, he develops insomnia after finding out how quickly she moved on. To pass the long hours of the night, he starts working the late night shift at the local supermarket. There he meets a colorful cast of characters, all of whom have their own ‘art’ in dealing with the boredom of an eight-hour-shift. Ben’s art is that he imagines himself stopping time. This way, he can appreciate the artistic beauty of the frozen world and the people inside it – especially Sharon, the quiet checkout girl, who perhaps holds the answer to solving the problem of Ben’s insomnia.

My Thoughts:

I subscribe to NetFlix instant and it is through their recommendation that I happened upon this quirky, independent British film.  It reminded me that despite how sexualized American culture is/may seem, we do have puritan roots compared to Europe.  This film is filled with nudity of all kinds, some that would make an American film NC-17.  At first it shocked me a little, but I do think that it served a purpose, as well as could provoke a discussion that perhaps the religious and secular shy away from, and I will delve into that more later. I just wanted to be upfront about the content of this movie since I’ve noticed the promotional materials geared to Americans tend to neglect it (I was surprised myself).

This film started as an 18 minute short film.  Due to it’s critical acclaim and Oscar nod, the writer and director, Sean Ellis, turned it into a full length movie.  This film is an exploration of how the main character, Ben Willis, views the world.  Because he is an insomniac and an artist the whole quality of the film is dreamlike.  It’s actually quite beautiful and some of the shots really capture the art of film, as opposed to just its story telling ability.

In fact, beauty is a central theme of the entire film.  Ben Willis is attending art school in the hopes of becoming a painter.  It is clear that he is enamored with the female form and women are his muse.

Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it ~ Confucius

There is a real juxtaposition between his wonderment, how he revers women and the beauty of their bodies, and how the rest of the males in the film do.  His male coworkers are juvenile and look at porn and hire strippers.  In return they do not get very far in relationships, since the women can see the vileness and crassness they exhibit.

Ben, on the other hand, is different.  In the film he has the ability to stop time, something I have always wanted.  It is his way of dealing with boredom and monotony.  At first, when he does so, he looks at all the women.  He undresses them.  This is a really challenging part of the film for me, being a woman and thinking about how unwillingly exposed I would be in that situation, completely unaware of what Ben was doing.  However, I think it is a true metaphor for what men (and women!) do to each other in our vain imagination.  How frequently have people talked of “undressing with the eyes”?

ALAS! ALAS! O LOVERS OF WORLDLY DESIRE! Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower. Not a pure breath have ye breathed, nor hath the breeze of detachment been wafted from the meadows of your hearts. Ye have cast to the winds the loving counsels of the Beloved and have effaced them utterly from the tablet of your hearts, and even as the beasts of the field, ye move and have your being within the pastures of desire and passion. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

I think Ben’s undressing though is less sexual, and more focused on the Eve-like true beauty of women (at least I hope so 🙂 ).  Ben was sexualized at a young age when he and his best friend found his father’s stash of dirty magazines.  Through the film it is clear how much of an effect that had on both him and his best friend (who pays for strippers and chases women to no avail).  I think this also speaks to the taboo on discussing sexual topics, since these children discovered all this on their own, without any parental guidance.  These topics are hard to talk about, especially in religious households that value chastity, but not talking about it does not mean that children will not be exposed.  I do not have an answer as to what is the best thing to do, but I do think “ostrich syndrome” doesn’t help.

Speaking of chastity, Ben’s budding relationship with Sharon, and his fascination with her is incredibly chaste in comparison.  All his drawings of her are of her face and eyes, and he sees her beauty through her expressions, her dreams, and her inherent nobility.  She is different than the other hooligans working the night shift.  She is learning Spanish and wants to travel the world.  He respects her and is enamored by her, and when is given the opportunity to kiss her merely pecks her on the cheek.  It is their first kiss (again pretty chaste, not the tongue filled make out kisses we are used to in Hollywood) that breaks the spell of his insomnia.

For when the true lover and devoted friend reacheth to the presence of the Beloved, the sparkling beauty of the Loved One and the fire of the lover’s heart will kindle a blaze and burn away all veils and wrappings. ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Unfortunately when Ben takes Sharon to a party, his ex is there.  She corners him and kisses him, and Sharon sees, though she turns to run before seeing him pushing his ex away and rejecting him.  Ben pauses time, but he cannot rewind it.  He knows the hurt he has caused and wants to stay in this moment as long as he can before Sharon runs away and cries.  He knows how important trustworthiness, fidelity, and respect are and in that moment he lost them.

The ending is beautiful, and while I have already given so much away, I will save that.  If you end up watching the film, Ben’s character shines through with his consideration, fortitude, and love in the final scenes.

People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within. ~ Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Your thoughts?



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 Visitor — Unity amid Diversity

Film:The Visitor Movie Poster

The Visitor, 2007

Starring Richard Jenkins, Haaz Sleiman, Danai Jekesai Gurira, and Hiam Abbass.

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

Widowed professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins, in an Oscar-nominated role) discovers an immigrant couple, Tarek (Haaz Sleiman) and Zainab (Danai Gurira), squatting in his Manhattan flat and becomes wrapped up in their lives when Tarek is thrown into a detention center. A wonderful Hiam Abbass co-stars as Tarek’s mother, who forges an unlikely connection with Walter. Director Thomas McCarthy’s indie drama was nominated for three Independent Spirit Awards.

My Thoughts (warning… after paragraph one there be spoilers):

First of all, wow.  When I finished watching this movie I wanted to run and hug every member of my family.  Unfortunately nobody was home.  This movie does not sugar coat.  I would still call it a “feel good” movie, despite it’s painfully realistic ending, and highly recommend it to all who have not seen it.  It is an example of when art can transcend and speak to the soul, at least for me.  And with that, onto the content and discussion.

The film opens with scenes from Walter’s (Richard Jenkins) life.  It becomes pretty clear early on that he is a sad and isolated person, a widower who has not gotten over his wife’s death and has been living much of his life on auto-pilot.  I think this can happen to a lot of us, especially in grief.  Depression runs rampant in America as we all struggle to connect, to find our place and purpose in life.  It can be overwhelming to feel so alone.

He strives to learn the piano, which we discover later was his late wife’s instrument.  Music is his way of reaching out and trying to stay connected, and when he fails to perfect the piano his hope seems lost.  People often talk about the power of music, and it is true that it can uplift us.

We, verily, have made music as a ladder for your souls, a means whereby they may be lifted up unto the realm on high…  ~Bahá’u’lláh

The trajectory of his life changes as he is forced to go to New York for a conference.  It turns out Walter has kept an apartment there.  Presumably it is where he and his wife used to live, so he cannot bear to part with it but also has not lived there in a while due to the memories.  When he arrives he discovers a couple living there, unaware that he owned the place.  Zainab, from Senegal, and Tarik, from Syria, are a French speaking, Muslim couple who happen to also be illegal immigrants.

Walter initially kicks them out, but his heart warms when he realizes they have no place to go, so he allows them to stay.  Perhaps it was compassion, perhaps it was curiosity, or perhaps it was his soul crying out to end his lonliness.  This choice turns out to change his life, or rather to reawaken him.

I would like to pause here and talk about how amazing this premise is.  It really brings me hope.  Here are people from three continents, working and living together, to break through cultural barriers to learn about one another and the grow and share.  I find that absolutely beautiful.  New York City has often been described as the capital of the world, and the most diverse place on earth, but I think that all throughout the world more mixing is taking place.  Just look at the President of the United States.  Barack Obama is not just the first Black US President, but he is the first mixed-race US President, with a family that spans from Kansas, to Hawaii, to Kenya, and Indonesia.

Tarik takes the time to show Walter how to drum.  Tarik has taken an African drum and Middle Eastern musical influences and brought them together with jazz into a band.  He shows Walter this style, and slowly but surely coaxes him through it.  Walter loves it.  He may not be able to connect to the piano the way his wife had, but he can drum and through the music a smile is brought back to his face, and courage to his heart.

Unfortunately, after Tarik took Walter to a drum circle in Washington Park, he was stopped in the Subway and taken into custody for being Syrian.  Tarik was sent to a detention center waiting deportation.  Neither Zainab nor Tarik’s mother Moona could visit because their status was also in jeopardy. Walter takes it on as his duty to visit Tarik, being the only one who can.  Tarik opened his heart to Walter and shared his music, and Walter wanted to show love in return.

This is where the movie gets pretty sad.  Despite Tarik having applied for asylum due to persecution, it was not granted.  Everyone had to wait, and despite lawyers and appeals, it was to no avail: Tarik was deported.  Walter, however, was changed, and the film ends with him performing the drums in the subway, the way Tarik wished he had been able to do.

This film really plays with the notions of citizenship and of justice.  In this global world people strive to make new homes in new places.  Immigration is a controversial issue in America, and land born of immigrants.  If there were not global inequalities and injustices people would not become desparate enough to leave their home and family to come to NYC.  Walter had been a professor of Economics, studying Development in Third-World/non-Western/Developing countries, yet he had no solution.  This is more than just an economic, but a spiritual issue.

It is not for him to pride himself who loveth his own country, but rather for him who loveth the whole world. The earth  is but one country, and mankind its citizens.  ~ Bahá’u’lláh

Or as The Bible put it in Leviticus, and reaffirmed by Jesus Christ in Matthew:

Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.

In this modern world, with global travel and the internet, everyone has become our neighbors.  We may not be able to solve the large problems, after all the security became tight in response to terrorism, but we can work on the small ones.  Tarik did by helping Walter through a difficult time, and through showing love and compassion.  Walter did the same by trying his best to support Tarik, even if all he could do was visit.

There are small things we can all do, whether it is visiting a neighbor, or trying to learn more about other cultures and peoples, that can help the world through this time of transition.  We are no longer tribes, or even countries, but the world as one, and this film tried to wrestle with a topic we are all wrestling with in one way or another.

Your thoughts?


Groundhog Day — The Day That Never Ends

Film:Groundhog Day Movie Poster

Groundhog Day, 1993

Starring Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell

Synopsis (from NetFlix):

In this offbeat comedy from director Harold Ramis, self-centered TV weatherman Phil Connors (Bill Murray) is sent to Punxsutawney, Pa., to cover the groundhog’s annual appearance. Loathing the event, Connors unleashes his bitterness on his producer (Andie MacDowell) and cameraman (Chris Elliott). The next day, however, Connors finds he’s doomed to repeat Groundhog Day — again and again — until he learns that his actions can affect the outcome.

My Thoughts:

First I would like to thank a reader for suggesting I review this film.  I decided to wait until Groundhog Day as it is only fitting.  Groundhog Day is an American tradition, and more particularly a Pennsylvanian one at that, so I was not suprised when I looked for the movie poster to find that in French the title was translated as “Un Jour Sans Fin” loosely “The Day without end”.  I liked that title since it more aptly describes the content of the film, but I am glad this film is about and titled  Groundhog Day, since it has now become a semi-annual tradition to watch it (it is that good).

This film addresses many spiritual concepts through the amazing humor of the Bill Murray/Harold Ramis team.  Weatherman Phil Connors starts off as a bitter, frustrated man, one whom even the audience would not sympathize akin to Scrooge (another Bill Murray role interestingly enough).  He has made it known that he hates Punxsutawney and Groundhog Day and instead of holding that in, he unleases his annoyance on everyone from his coworkers to the friendly Bed and Breakfast owner.  He gets his comeuppance though, when he is doomed to relive the day over and over.

I love this settup because it is something we all frequently face.  When we are unhappy or displeased is it really fair or just to try to make everyone else around us miserable as well?  Yet sometimes we do just that.  It is not endearing.  It does not make us truly feel any better because the circumstances that influenced our mood have not changed.  Instead it makes it harder for our fellow people.  And in doing that we lose their sympathy.

Phil Connors did just that in Groundhog Day, so when he woke up to relive the day all over he was stuck with the situation as it was and had to live with it.  There was no choice.  Is that not how life is every day?

At first Phil was disbelieving, and then he was downright depressed.  He tried committing suicide a myriad of ways only to wake up again the morning of Groundhog Day.  Again, this really intrigues me because suicide is a topic so scary, sad, yet fascinating.  The World Religions council against it, but since we all do not truly know what happens after death we can never truly understand the consequences of this action.  In this film it was moot, it did not help at all.  In others, like Wristcutters which I will review in the future, the consequence was to return to a world just like ours except that the soda is always flat and people couldn’t smile.

Phil also tried stealing cars and robbing banks, but that too did not make the day go away.  Finally he set about to capture the heart of his producer Rita.  This was not an easy task considering how awfully he had treated her before.  He had to transform himself.  Again, a spiritual notion, for what is the purpose of religion if not transformation?

At first his attempts to change are superficial.  He tries to learn things about her, like her love of poetry and her favorite ice cream flavor, so that he can charm her but he still is manipulative which is not part of a noble character, which both she and God/the Fates/the Universe can see through.

It is when he began to think of others instead of himself that life began to change.  He would save a boy from falling out of a tree, and tried hard to save an old homeless man from dying.  He cultivated the talent of piano playing, and auctioned himself off for charity.  He apologized to people he had wronged. – things he never would have done the “first” Groundhog Day.

And in the end he did win the girl, and he did finally wake up on February 3rd, and throughout the process he made both his world and the world around him better.

“The betterment of the world can be accomplished through pure and goodly deeds and through commendable and seemly conduct.” ~Bahá’u’lláh

This is something we can all do.  It isn’t fiction.  It isn’t “just another movie” but an expression of something I think is much more fundamental.  We worry about World Peace, but is this not the path to it?  Each person doing their small part to improve, however meagerly, themselves and in doing so, the world around them.


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?