A few weeks ago I watched the French film “The Intouchables.”
I had been wanting to see this movie for awhile – even though I was sort of expecting a weeper.
What I mean by that is – I wasn’t expecting to laugh out loud – frequently – while watching a story about a quadriplegic and his caregiver. Yet I did.
It has taken me some time to figure out why. What about this film turned a potential tragedy into a celebration of life? It is based on a true story. It was a box office smash in its home country. Its main character is a dead-ringer for Dustin Hoffman.
None of that was it.
Nope – as it turns out, what moved me beyond tears to laughter was the sheer impact of one human being showing up as himself in each and every situation. From rags to riches, the streets to lavish boudoirs, subways to sports cars, sweats to black tie, the caretaker transformed everyone he met for the better, often without either awareness or effort.
Driss, the caretaker, didn’t do anything special – in fact, he actually went out of his way not to do anything special, starting with not wanting to accept the job taking care of Philippe.
Yet somehow, once the two were matched, genuine, deep and sustained belly laughter – along with profound and long-lasting transformation in both lives – was the unexpected outcome.
In my last post, I shared my discovery of a new movie mentor in Charlie, teenage hero of “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
Charlie inspired me on many levels – and he also made me think.
In fact, I am still thinking about a particular conversation between Charlie and Sam, the object of his romantic affections. In the film, Sam has historically had trouble selecting men who treat her with respect. During this conversation, she asks Charlie why. His answer (effectively “borrowed” from an earlier conversation on the same topic he has had with his English teacher), is simple:
People accept the love they think they deserve.
I heard this dialogue and found myself nodding my internal head, “Yup, yup. So true, so true.”
I neatly catalogued the statement in my mind as a “profound cliche” and moved on. Until the middle of that night, when I woke up asking myself the uncomfortable, inevitable question: “So, Shannon, what kind of love do you think you deserve?”
Crap crap crap crap crap.
Last night I watched “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
I have had the film in my Netflix queue for awhile…..in fact, I have had the film in my house for quite awhile, all neatly sealed up in its little red envelope. I would get to the end of my day, look at the “number of minutes” count, realize there was no way I could stay awake for 102 whole minutes, and put off watching it for another night.
So last night was the night. Now I understand why I didn’t just send it back (sometimes I do this when I get too irritated by the sight of that red unopened envelope).
As it turned out, I could relate to the story in sooooo many ways – except that in my high school, there was no pair of caring senior students who took me under their social wing. Come to think of it, “wallflower” would be a mild description for my particular brand of social skills in high school….and in college….and for the first several years of life thereafter.
As such, the raw kindness of step-siblings Patrick and Sam took my breath away – just the sheer impact of how one small act of empathy can totally transform a life.
I particularly liked that the film was so open about so many issues that so many people still insist on staying so closed up about – sexual orientation, eating disorders, depression, friendship, romance, suicide, drug use, and the actual (not relative) appeal of “coolness” up close. I know I wasn’t open about any of those topics in my younger years, although I wrestled with some and suspected I had classmates who wrestled with others.
At one point, Charlie, the main character, asks his doctor if other people feel so sad as he does upon observing all the pain in others. She doesn’t seem sure – but I am. I too struggle with this. I have always struggled with this. Back in my songwriting days, I wrote a song called “For Me to Hold.” The chorus was simple: “Oh there’s too much pain in the world for me to hold, for me to hold.”
I wrote that song in my 20′s – I am now 42-and-counting and I still feel that way many days.
I wish I knew the answer to that.
All I do know is that it seems to be helping.
At this point you might be justified to ask, “helping with what?”
This part I can actually answer.
Sometimes I find myself dealing with mean or unwelcome people – such as my scary neighbor. Sometimes no matter what I try, I still dislike them – immensely. Unfortunately, the fact that I dislike them or want them to go away doesn’t ever seem to actually get them to go away – especially when they live one floor below me.
So recently when my sinuses attacked me and I literally had nothing else to do, I watched the film “Happy” and it talked about how compassion meditation changes the structure of the brain to make practitioners, well, happier.
I thought to myself, “I should try this!”
Recently I came down with a very bad sinus infection. And some kind of icky bronchial thing. And total laryngitis.
Being housebound and medicated (over a long sunny holiday weekend no less) I resorted to multiple naps, cooking (never a good idea) and tackling the blockage in my vacuum cleaner’s “suck” mechanism for entertainment.
Finally I decided it was safer to let others entertain me. The first thing that popped up in my Netflix queue was a documentary called “Happy.” Since I was feeling anything but, I decided that was perfect.
The documentary focused on, well, happiness. Specifically, it focused on what makes people happy….and a little bit of what doesn’t.
Often when I fall in love with a movie, it starts with a single line that hits home.
For instance, let’s take the original “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie. I know there have been like a zillion new ones since the original, but I am still stuck on the first one. It is because of “the guidelines” (otherwise known as the “Pirate’s Code”). When Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) invokes the rule of parlay and is told only after being imprisoned aboard the Black Pearl that the Code is not a rule, per se, but more like a set of guidelines, I was hooked.
I see this as how all of life is – or at least how it is in my life. I try to make rules. “I will never do this.” “I will always do that.” “This is the most important goal in my life.” “I will not put up with that any more in my life.” And then I do….or I don’t. What feels absolutely wrong one day, or in one moment or situation, might be absolutely the right choice for another. It has taken me a long, long, LONG time to figure out that this is how my life works.
I was watching one of my favorite holiday-themed movies, “Valentine’s Day”, again recently.
Don’t ask me why I was watching it in October – maybe because I have to confront the reality of this overpriced corporate holiday at some point each year, and I’m usually not in the mood in February.
Or maybe it was just because I love how deep Taylor Swift’s character is.
Nope, that can’t be it.
Truthfully, though, I know why I’ve watched V-Day four or five times now. I love films about real love – imperfect, messy love, between people who often look as well as act imperfect and messy, about guys who are sappier than gals (it does happen – I’m just about the least sappy gal I know, so it’s nice to know I’m not alone) and gals who aren’t ready for or just haven’t found commitment yet (ditto the “not alone” statement here).
So I guess really I love films about real love that I could see myself actually starring in – or at least playing a bit part.
The night after I watched the film, I woke up the next morning thinking about the lifelong romance portrayed between Estelle (Shirley Maclaine) and Edgar (Hector Elizondo). It usually isn’t “young love” that moves me to tears – it is portraits (in film or real life) about couples who have spent their entire lives together that get the waterworks going. So many people want this – long for it – feel that life will quite simply but incomplete, not fully lived, if they never find it. I have spent many years wanting it myself.
Today, I want it less than I ever have before, but not for the reasons you might think.
One of my all-time favorite movies is the Nicholas Cage classic “Gone in 60 Seconds”.
Nicholas Cage in “Gone in 60 Seconds”
This is not just because Nicholas Cage and my brother Adam could be identical twins, either.
In the movie, Cage plays car thief Randall “Memphis” Raines. His nemesis, Detective Castlebeck (played by Delroy Lindo) and Castlebeck’s sidekick (played by none other than a younger Timothy Olyphant, aka Justified’s Raylan Givens) spend what seems to be every waking minute trying to bust his chops.
Me with my brother Adam (aka “The Young Nick Cage”)
Continually throughout the film, you hear Castlebeck muttering, “The easy way or the hard way, Raines….the easy way or the hard way.”
I must have watched the movie a dozen times before I realized that that was my favorite line. It felt like something I’d been asking myself for most of my (now) 41 years.
When I was in college I wanted to be in the FBI.
Yup, that is right. The Federal Bureau of Investigation.
The gal my parents nicknamed “our little flower” wanted to be a pistol packing, trained and dangerous government official.
Looking back now, I think I was just confused….because clearly what I really wanted was to simply marvel at others (real or fictitious) who have those skills from the comfort and safety of my own home.
To date I have plowed my way through the entire five seasons of “Burn Notice”, and I am right smack dab in the middle of season three of “Justified”. I already have season one of “White Collar” loaded into my Netflix queue, and right behind that I plan to watch “Luther”.
I just like folks who don’t waste time that could be spent getting it done.
I like folks, characters or flesh and blood, who aren’t afraid to make a decision, even if it requires pitting doing what’s easy against doing what’s right. In fact, I especially like those kind….the kind who choose option b on a regular basis.
I guess I spent too many years of my own life waffling, and now I’m ready to get a little of my own back, even if it is vicariously.
My landlady and I have had our differences over the years, so when she loaned me the first book in the Dragon Tattoo series, I accepted it more as a mutually desired peace offering than with any real literary enthusiasm.
Truth be told, I was scared of the books. I have a phobia about serial killers (unfortunately realized a good 100 “Medium” episodes too late) and I knew full good and well the book was named “The Man Who Hates Women” in the Swedish edition.
But I was determined to read it anyway – for the aforementioned reason.
I started reading, and promptly started having nightmares. Of course. I have a phobia, the book was addressing the phobia, and certainly there were many other rather awful events that befell the heroine along the way to the end of page 650-I-lost-count.
But, as I am sure the writer intended, by the end of the first book I was also hooked.