It was Socrates who said, “the unexamined is not worth living.”
I suppose it was my religious upbringing that instilled in me the importance of self reflection, even though that religious heritage had limited objectives by encouraging children, at an early age, to reflect, almost exclusively, on their sins.
The objective was to make sure that all children become aware of just how inclined to evil we all were, no matter how much it preached the pollyanic, but contradictory message that we were all made in the image and likeness of God.
Self-knowledge (the “unexamined life”), then, was more like self-flagellation than it was about any deep soul searching. A cathartic walk through our faults was seen, by the church, as the only way to heal our, essentially, sinful selves.
Nevertheless, I did learn something about interiority. I did learn that it was permissible, if not encouraged, to be silent with myself, to circle back into my psyche.
Leaning over the rail,
The rush of dead leaves in his head,
A robin’s feathered chest
Dropped from the jaws
Of an eagle looking into
Turnstyling what was yet left
To be lived.
She had nothing more to say to him,
Or, so she thought.
A final soliloquy to decorate
The last exit?
A tired spring blossoming,
Ripped of its energy
By a fierce, aging winter
With its suffocating folds of snow
Matched the weakness of her resolve
To say one last goodbye.
Departures, she finally decided,
Better left to silence,
Avoiding the ache of closure
That never arrives
With the last word.
Grace, a gift the unworthy
From an unknown lover,
Bartering as young gods always do
For more than respect,
Rejecting the cordiality
Of statesmen and underpaid doormen.
Who is this gift-giver, this once bronze god
Fermented into an old man’s unsteadiness,
Weak ankles, aching knee-caps, a lazy mouth?
Generosity cannot shuttle out of the arms
Of aging gods smoking cigars, one unsteady hand
Guiding a wheeled walker through the halls
Of the soundless stalks of the unrepentant.
I used to believe that I was emotionally resilient. After experiencing Kenneth Lonergan’s film, “Manchester By The Sea,” I’m not so sure.
We first meet the central character, Lee Chandler, as a brooding, angry maintenance worker who manages to piss off or frustrate some of the tenants in one of the apartment buildings where he works. In the next scene, he starts a barroom brawl.
We don’t find out anything else about Lee’s life until one flashback reveals his alcoholic carelessness when he runs out of beer one night and walks to the store, forgetting to put the protective screen in front of the fire in the home fireplace. As he returns from the store, he hears fire sirens and runs up to see his home in flames and his distraught wife being gurneyed into the ambulance. His two children are lifted out of the rubble in black plastic bags.
From that traumatic moment, his psyche is frozen in emotional withdrawal and rage, two reactions he can little afford when he receives a phone call informing him that his brother has just died from a massive heart attack.
In a moment he is totally unprepared for, a lawyer informs him that his brother appointed him legal guardian of his teen-age nephew.
The rest of the film chronicles the uneven relationship with the nephew in moments of dark humor, raw honesty and the nephew’s casual and often comic sexual experiences.
One of the more poignant scenes happens when the nephew has a short-lived emotional break down when frozen meat keeps falling out of the freezer, reminding him that his father’s body has to stay in a morgue freezer because the cemetery ground in the winter is too hard to dig through for his father’s grave.
The nephew, the film is clear in telling us, is far more emotionally vulnerable and open than his uncle, who finally admits he can’t “beat” the darkness of his own personal trauma in being responsible for his children’s deaths. In addition to trying to adapt to his role as guardian, he makes at least one attempt at emotional expansiveness when he sells his brother’s guns to pay for a new motor for the nephew’s inherited boat.
Many of the town’s residents still hold him responsible for his family tragedy. His ex-wife is one of the exceptions when she makes a vain attempt to have him admit he still loves her, after she makes her own admission. In a typical dark Lonergan moment, she reveals her feelings even though she’s remarried and is out strolling her newly born infant when the chance meeting with Lee happens.
Lee is presented with a series of vulnerability and compassion moments from other people, cumulative examples that life still has worth—from the medical staff in the hospital where his brother dies to his nephew’s open moments of vulnerability to his own memories of his brother’s deep affection for him and his ex-wife’s fragile and risky admission that she still loves him.
In the final scene, Lee and his nephew are out on the family boat fishing. He has forfeited his guardianship and plans to return to Boston. He has chosen, in the end, not to move out of his soul’s bleak darkness. As the Romans would say, “Noli Me Tangere” (a loose translation—“let nothing touch me”)
“Moonlight,” won “best picture” award at this year’s Oscar’s after a traumatic envelope mixup. It is a one-of-a-kind film about a coming of age black young man who discovers, early in his fragile life, that he is gay.
As a pre-teenager, Chiron’s gay identity comes down on him like a falling meteor when his alcoholic-drug addicted mother, in a fit of self-loathing, screams “faggot” at him.
In high school, Chiron is bullied, taunted, and beaten but has a spontaneous, first-kiss and consummated sexual experience on the beach with one of his classmates.
Many years later, he ends up being a drug dealer mirroring the behavior of an older man who became a kind of surrogate father to the younger Chiron teaching him to swim and who, with his girlfriend, occasionally offered the young boy a place to hang out, eat, and escape from his cocaine-addicted mother.
Unexpectedly, Chiron receives a night phone call from his high school buddy with whom he had his first and only sexual experience. He eventually decides to take the road trip to make a surprise visit. After his friend makes him dinner, Chiron awkwardly admits he has never been touched by anyone else, as his friend cradles him in his arms in a final tender scene.
What I loved about this film is that it is not rushed. Each scene is given its moment, sometimes painfully, sometimes tenderly, without stealing or overshadowing the other. Although the central character’s life choice to sell drugs gives the film an ominous tone of fatalism, the restrained optimism of the narrative has more than its day in court—-Chiron eventually forgives his mother after she ends up in a rehab and at least two sets of characters are on Chiron’s side: the young couple who offer him refuge from his addicted mother and the high school friend who, even after his own marriage and separation, is still emotionally attached to Chiron.
Chiron’s character has heavy layers of loneliness, isolation, introversion, and painful shyness. But, in the end, the movie gives us an emphatic sense that he’s a survivor. And, viewers leave the film feeling Chiron has at least one moment of psychological relief in his friend’s obvious emotional and physical affection.
Toni Erdmann a German-Austrian production about a father and adult-daughter relationship. The father is a playful eccentric who loves to impersonate. The adult daughter is an up-tight, angst-driven corporate executive trying to succeed in a male dominated work environment.
Her father, impersonating an executive, uses the interventionist, in-your-face approach by invading her corporate world.
The psychological clash between the two of them vacillates between her rage and frustration with her father’s antics and an occasional surrender to the playful world and love of life he is trying to convince her has more intrinsic worth than all the compromises of self-worth she has to make in the corporate world.
Does the father succeed in winning her over to his side of life? Well, let me just say the movie’s ending gives you an ambiguous clue.
She was the object of somebody’s desire,
Like the faint shadow of a morning deer
Seen through the dead brush,
Fog lifting into its own absence,
Background to the primal hunt,
A new man frozen by impulse,
She, pretending confidence
In a shoulder’s shrug, brown focused eyes.
Directed by Raoul Peck, the documentary, I am Not Your Negro, is based on an unfinished book by James Baldwin about the three modern iconic black leaders who were assassinated: Medgar Evers, Martin Luther King Jr, and Malcolm X.
All three represented the three distinct movements in contemporary black history and culture: the NAACP, the peaceful resistance movement of MLK, and the more activist Nation of Islam Movement of Malcolm X.
The documentary, on so many levels, is almost impossible to take in in one sitting. Its sweep is large, including archival photos and footage of lynchings; some of the divisions among the black leadership; the civil rights era, including the school integration crisis in the south prompting visceral white reaction: the riots and the Black Panther confrontations with the police; footage of the trauma within the black community after the assassinations of Evers, King, and Malcolm X.
All of these historically momentous events became more compelling with the brilliant language of Baldwin’s text woven into the documentary and footage of Baldwin’s provocative speaking and debating skills (Baldwin had early training as a preacher).
Peck’s brilliant directing made use of images of the volatile civil rights era seamlessly blended in with the more contemporary images of Obama’s presidency, the Black-Lives-Matter protests and the photos of some of the young blacks killed by the police, prompting the protests.
Peck managed to brilliantly incorporate brief excerpts of classic films showing either how blacks had been demeaned and stereotyped as characters or how they began to be slowly given substantial character roles. He also included snippets of some classic white films with characters who were portrayed as western heroes or as romantically desirable, two characterizations denied blacks in the Hollywood film industry for decades.
Be prepared for an emotionally engaging film at the top of its game in presenting a comprehensive look at post-World War II black America under the exquisite direction of Raoul Peck and the literary brilliance of James Baldwin.
The Braggart, the Victim, the Innocent
It is not difficult to spot someone with a big ego. Aside from the fact that they are often hiding their insecurities, they tend to let you know, up front, that they are authorities about everything—-kids, relationships, mortgages, the best deals, doctors, schools, books, current events, relatives, religion, social media, even sex.
As an adult, however, I found that egotists come in many, many shades. Or they express their egos in different ways.