What More Needs To Be Said?

It’s rare I venture into the entertainment world, imbibing the latest tidbits of gossip. It’s not my thing. Never has been. My heroes lie elsewhere—those who’ve made the world a better place. Having said that, there exist those I admire in the film industry for their aplomb as film auteurs, writers and directors dedicated to moving beyond titillation and using this powerful medium as high artistry to make us think about those values lending meaning to our lives: Aaron Sorkin, Oliver Stone, Francois Truffault, Michael Moore, Stephen Spielberg, Werner Herzog, and still others, among them Woody Allen, a personal favorite, come to mind.

This morning I came upon this wonderful passage in Woody’s just published Apropos About Nothing where he’s elaborating on Zelig, his attempt at documentary commentary. It reverberates with insight that reinforces my own in our turbulent time of “wrongthink,” or revived McCarthyism with its notorious blacklisting, its pile-ons and would-be lynchings of those who dissent:

“Zelig was about how we all want to be accepted, to fit in, to not offend, that we often present a different person to different people knowing which person might best please. In the end this obsession for conformity leads to fascism.”

What more needs to be said?

American Sniper: Anatomy of a Mauling

amsniper

There’s been heavy flak, to say the least, over Clint Eastwood’s blockbuster film, American Sniper.

It started with film director Michael Moore’s take on snipers as “cowards” who shoot people in the back.”

Others soon piled on, like Seth Rogen, who compared the film to Nazi propaganda.

Outspoken Bill Maher went further, condemning real life Chris Kyle, on whom the movie is based, as a psychopathic killer.

Returning blows, Kid Rock hoped Michael Moore would “catch a fist to the mouth soon.”

Surprisingly, Jane Fonda tweeted her appreciation of the film: “Bradley Cooper sensational. Bravo Clint Eastwood.”

Nominated for six academy awards, including Best Movie, the controversy hasn’t gone away and, in all probability, precludes any Oscar possibility.

Anyway, I knew I had to see the film after both my dental hygienist and neighbor, first thing out of their mouths, asked if I’d seen it.

So I dutifully went the very next day to a matinee showing, surprised by the large audience on a weekday.

I was on the edge of my seat throughout, gripped by the film’s graphic, nearly non-stop violence spurting from nearly every Sadr City window, rooftop, or corner.

Not since Platoon had I seen a you-are-there war movie like this, replete with in your face carnage inflicted by a relentless, hidden foe relying on ambush.

Retired marine sniper Jeff Crenshaw says “It’s the most realistic thing I’ve seen since the battlefield.  It shows the true nature of war and how awful it is and the toll it takes on a human being.”

Like Vietnam, not knowing who your foe is, possibly even a mother or child, you had to watch your back, and that’s where Kyle comes in, portrayed as protector, not assassin.

My take is that the film’s been misunderstood by its critics, even deliberately maligned by those with political agendas oriented to the Left. They hated the Iraqi war, thought it a ruse for oil interests. Nourishing grudges, they will neither forget nor forgive.

I found American Sniper neither a glorification of war nor right wing propaganda.

Neither a “Republican movie” nor a film appealing to innately angry audiences of Tea Party stripe.

In fact, it sidesteps politics altogether.

Even the Mahdhi insurgents are shown to be ferocious in defending what they regard as their turf against the invading American forces, superbly equipped with the latest weaponry and technology.

Hardly a psychopathic killer, Kyle is always shown as an interventionist, honing in on his target in the nick-of-time to safeguard his fellow soldiers at risk of a hurled grenade or a shot from a window.

At times he waits hard and long, reluctant to shoot a child who may be carrying an incendiary device towards unsuspecting American troops.

In another scene, he prays that a child struggling with a rocket grenade launcher will drop the weapon. He’s not in Iraq to kill children. Fortunately, the child drops the weapon.

Iraq is a place where you’d best never drop  your guard, since it’s not clear who’s enemy, as we see when Chris and other soldiers get invited to a civilian’s home, which turns out to be a setup for ambush.

Kyle ultimately breaks down, telling his wife he wants to come home, clearly having his fill of war; in fact, four tours.

Clint Eastwood has defended his movie, echoed by Gary Sinise, saying that the movie is really about what happens to our soldiers on their return home, themselves victims of war.

Married and father of two children, he may be physically present, but mentally he’s absent as his troubled wife tells him.

He endures a nagging guilt he needs to be there to protect them.

Implying Kyle was a coward is simply way over the top.

As for Maher, who quotes Kyle’s autobiography in which he denounces his foes as “barbarians” and expresses pleasure in killing them, this is umbrage born of ignorance, not surprising in people who’ve never served a day in uniform or participated in combat, nor seen their fellows blown apart, tortured or shot at.

But let’s leave the verbal broadsides of the critics aside.

The film isn’t really about Kyle.

It’s about the American soldier, or all soldiers for that matter.

Unfortunately, the critics have been engaged in killing off the messenger in failing to distinguish between statement and meaning, which is what artistic irony entails.

Literalists, they can’t fathom ambiguity.

In one scene, the at home veteran nearly kills the family’s pet fog, conflating its play with his young son as aggression.

Kyle clearly isn’t a well man.

The bottom line is that he suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which includes all its pervasive symptoms:

Anxiety

Guilt

Anger and irritability.

Depression

Alienation

Difficulty in relationships

Inability to focus.

I’ve just come off reading Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, her masterful biography of WWII hero Louis Zamperini, who survived 48 days at sea in a rubber raft, only to land in the Japanese occupied Marshall Islands, then subsequently transported to Japan, where he endured near starvation and daily beatings at the hands of a sadistic camp commandant for two years.

Returning home at war’s end, Zamperini’s travail continued with nightmares in which his tormentor appeared, along with alcohol dependency, alienation from his wife and friends, a hatred for his captors, and a determined resolve to return to Japan and kill the man singularly responsible for heinous crimes afflicted on himself and fellow POWs.

In short, Zamperini suffered the classic symptoms of PTSD.

So what if Kyle wrote of his loathing of the enemy, Maher?

This is what inevitably happens whenever critics like Maher launch personal attacks, shallowly judging by symptoms and not rooting out causes, or lifting behavior from context.

Truth is, war often strips us of our humanity.

We say and do things alien to the better angels of ourselves.

PTSD is a wounding of the mind and spirit every bit as real as any physical wound.

Hardly simplistic, I found American Sniper a tell-it-like-it-is movie, replete with ambiguity of the kind integral to tensions formulated whenever humane values conflict with the killing mores of the battlefield.

I salute first lady Michelle Obama, speaking recently before a veteran’s group, who accurately appraised the film as “complex, emotional, and a realistic depiction of a veteran and his family.”

While I know there have been critics, I felt that, more often than not, this film touches on many of the emotions and experiences that I’ve heard firsthand from military families over these past few years.  This movie reflects . . . the complex journeys that our men and women in uniform endure.

That resonates for me, a veteran.

What’s more, it speaks for millions of audience goers as well, from every demographic: red state and blue, gender, race, and ethnicity.

rj

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Maleficent: a must see movie!

“No society treats its women as well as its men.”
UN Development Programme, 1997)

Jolie

There’s a new movie I’m wanting to see. It’s called Maleficent and stars Angelina Jolie.

It’s timely because it’s really about rape, which has now entered into virtually every fabric of American life, including our schools. On our higher college campuses, one out of five coeds will be raped.

Time Magazine in its recent cover issue on the subject, mentions that the University of Montana (Missoula) has averaged 80 rapes annually over the last two years. It isn’t unique: even the Ivy League schools have a high incident rate–that is, of reported rapes, twenty percent of them related to alcohol. Some experts speculate that most campus rape goes unreported.

Across the nation, the same 20% figure prevails, with 80% of rape victims below age 25, according to The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey, done in 2010, and made public last year. Stalking, now abetted by smart technology, is even more widespread, or five times the number of rapes.

But let’s get down to bedrock: The survey estimated that 1.27 million American women were raped–or one woman every 29 seconds–and 5.1 million stalked–a fall out rate of one woman every 7 seconds.

Rape is so much a part of our national fabric that it’s found its way into a Walt Disney film in a grim version of Sleeping Beauty. In the eponymous film, Maleficent is a fairy initially enjoying unlimited aerial freedom in a forest setting (i.e, archetypal rendering of situational danger), who falls in love with Stefan, a human being, who betrays her.

Rape, in the film’s metaphorical version, is transposed into Stefan’s drugging Maleficent so that he can take her wings back to the king of humans. In this age of ambien, pervasive alcohol, and PT141 on the horizon, sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

In a cogent review, http://huff.to/1lbymvh, Hayley Krischer writes that “Maleficent is a commentary on current male and female relationships. It’s a commentary on rape culture. And much more, it’s a story that allows a woman to recover. It gives her agency. It gives her power. It allows her to reclaim the story. And this is something that can’t be ignored.”

Sadly, clipping a woman’s wings is what many men do, with rape its ultimate manifestation, taking away their ability to be fully themselves, free to pursue their dreams, able to soar above the nets of male malice, discrimination, exploitation and often betrayal. (Krischer reminds us that 70% percent of rapes are committed by someone the woman knows.)

While many gains have been made with the rise of feminism in the 1960s, the rape culture is still with us, and even more, of men who still try to clip a women’s wings through unequal pay, feminization of poverty, career barriers, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, and physical violence.

In a culture still dominated by testosterone driven men I doubt this sad scenario will ever fully vanish, but at least a film like Maleficent can give women awareness and its articulation, empowering them to keep their wings intact.

–rj

 

 

 

Susan Sarandon Gets It: Authentic Living

susan-sarandon

“I can’t eat. I can’t sleep. I’ve been dreaming of my parents every day,” says Wang Zheng, a 31-year old engineer whose parents were aboard missing Malaysia Airlines Flight  370, now into its third week with still no positive yields as to its fate. 

Ironically, new reports of possible debris 1500 miles off the coast of Western Australia aren’t offering the languishing families and friends the solace they seek–that their loved ones may still be alive, despite its sheer unlikelihood.  As humans, hope is often all we can muster up against life’s irrational swells that confront, often adversely, randomly, and without closure, our daily quest for denominated happiness via health, work, food on our tables, and loved ones to share our good luck with on our return at day’s end.

Emily Dickinson said it well about the fervency of hope in her typically simple, yet elegant, observance,

 Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops at all.

Of course, it’s good to have hope in life, since without it we’d find each other mutually insufferable, depressed cranks weighed down by hurt, anger, and resentment.  I’m thinking just now of the biblical Job whose troubles were only made worse by his judgmental friends, devoid of empathy, callous to his personal suffering.

What prolongs our suffering, however, comes from our need to impose control, especially when it comes to life’s volatility, and thus hope may not really be what we need to shore us up.  All of life is laced with the temporal, or ending, a serial repertoire of good-byes.  In the vast aeons of Nature, even the mountains are born and die, our own existence as a species hardly a wink up against’s Nature’s several billion year legacy of genesis, maturation and decline.   For most of us, coming to terms with our own mortality is our ultimate existential dilemma. and the stuff of poetry, say like Keats (e.g., “When I have fears that I may cease to be”).

The Buddha had it right:  “All suffering is born of desire.”  Our primary desire is often for permanence when the truth is that impermanence embraces everything.  Again, we don’t like to say good bye.  I knew this first hand as a child, preferring to make myself scarce rather than seeing loved ones off.

We spare ourselves considerable grief when we grasp this fundamental truth, an observation shared in universal creeds and philosophic rumination, affirmed by science.  We can’t retain our youth; we forfeit our friends, sometimes our mates; we change our jobs and often our locales; we lose our parents; we see our children move out and sometimes far away; and, of course, we always must contend with that random press on human intent and happiness via cosmic intervention such as accident or natural disaster.

In all of this, it’s our human disposition to wander between past and future and thus miss out on what we do have–life in the Now–and living mindfully in its effulgence rather than hedonistically, which inevitably comes up short.

I was just reading about Susan Sarandon, whom I’ve long admired for not only her film achievement, but her compassion for those denied social justice.  In her personal life, she mirrors the wisdom of seizing the day, or maximizing our present.  Asked why she dissolved her 23-year relationship with Tim Robbins, with whom she had two children, she said that it came after performing in Ionesco’s Exit the King on Broadway, which deals with confronting mortality: “You can’t do a meditation on death and stay in a situation that’s not authentic” (Meg Grant, AARP Magazine, Feb/Mar 2014).

I also like her punchline simple formula for everyday happiness:  “It’s the simple things.  Good food.  Good friends.  Sunsets and sunrises.  With age, you gain maybe not wisdom, but at least a bigger picture” (Grant).

Me, I call that wisdom: authentic living in the present.  After all, the Now is all we really have, given the ephemerality of life’s myriad textures.  Living it meaningfully–which is to say, mindfully–enables us to find freedom over circumstance and, with it, greater happiness

–rj

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