Thursday, March 29, 2012

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I watched the dvd Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close this week. It deals with the attack on the Twin Towers on 9-11. Many people died that day but this is about one man who died. One man who loved his wife and had a warm nurturing relationship with his young son. The son is somewhere on the Aspergers syndrome spectrum. He is very precocious and has a very imaginative mind.  He also has a lot of fears about the real world. After 9-11 his fears only get worse. He tries to construct his own safe haven in his home, a place he retreats to to try to stay close to his father. One day he gets up the courageous to go into his father's closet and he accidentally knocks over a vase which shatters and an envelope falls out. In the envelope he finds a key with the word BLACK on it. Before the day his father died he created scavenger hunts for his son to get him out of the house and help him overcome his fears of the outside world. Oskar (the young boy) thinks this was his dad's last scavenger hunt for him. So, he devises an impossible plan to track down every person named Black in NYC. There are thousands. He figures it will take him 3 years. But, more importantly it gives him a way to keep his father close. He meets a lot of people and he always wants to know what their stories are. He takes their pictures and keeps a journal of his discoveries. The journey of the Key is not what he thought it was -a last message from his dad, but it becomes the best way he could have found to deal with his grief and anger. In the process of looking for the key he finds many stories of loss and love. A mysterious mute old man (played wonderfully by Max von Sydow) helps him on his search for what the key unlocks but he eventually has to give up and Oskar loses him, too (he has his own story of loss that bisects Oskar's life in an interesting way).

Oskar is played by a boy who never acted before and who was seen on Kid Jeopardy and then recruited for the role. He is in every scene and his performance is Oscar worthy. Oskar's loss on what he calls the Worst Day of his Life is deeply painful and seems unbearable at times. Oskar's fits of rage are mostly directed at his mother (Sandra Bullock) and himself. Losses like these are never healed completely. Time does not do it. Love is a better healer and the shared loss of a community of people helps, too. Oskar has the support of a loving and caring family and he meets people - a community of shared loss -that gets him past his anger and grief and fears to the point where he can live in the real world. It's a modern parable for our times.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hunger Games

I went to see Hunger Games last night. Like everywhere else it's selling a lot of tickets here. The theater was full and there were more adults there than kids. I wasn't going to go. I read the book and was not that impressed. But, I am glad I went. I liked the movie better than the book. In the film, a few of the main themes of the book were much easier to see. And see is the important word here. The movie is all about seeing. Hunger Games, as everyone knows by now,  is about a future world (America?) where the few (1%) occupy the best district in the country while the other 12 districts are kept under the thumb of the Capitol. This is the 74th edition of the Hunger Games we are told and every year each district selects two teenagers (ages 12-18) to compete in a survival contest to death. Only one teen survives and he or she is a hero for life. These "Tributes", as they are called, sacrifice their lives in a gladiatorial contest ( it will remind you of ancient Rome - they even process before the enthusiastic crowds in the Capitol by chariot) every year to pay back the ruling elite for a rebellious uprising 74 years ago. It is not totally clear how this came about but what is clear is that for the rest of the year the people in these districts do the dirty work so the Capitol dwellers may enjoy the Good Life with all its self indulgent perks.

The teen on teen violence which is a major theme of the movie was downplayed. At times when I was watching the movie I had to remind myself what this was about: kids having to kill each other or be killed. Other than one or two scenes the violence is not graphic and most of the killings are in self defense or accidental. At the outset, the Tributes are told that most of their deaths will be by natural causes, ie, falls, animal attacks, dehydration. The Tributes are there by no choice of their own (one of the districts is rumored to train some of the athletic teens in survival techniques and one boy from this district seems to get into the role of predator more than the others). In the process of preparation for the Games, and during the Games themselves, relationships are formed and some of the teens really care about each other and their fates.

The villain in the story is the Capitol. It is the people who demand this entertainment every year. They are a nation of watchers. Every moment of the Hunger Games from the time the Tributes are selected to the finale is on the big screen. There are surveillance cameras all over the "wilderness" where the Games are held and "natural" effects like storms and fires and wild animals can be controlled and managed from a central place in the Capitol.  It is likely the watchers are being watched, too. It is a voyeuristic image of the future. I thought of the cameras on street corners, and campuses, and in businesses. More and more of our lives are on video tape. Courts are deciding what is legal to video and what is not. What rights to privacy do we possess any more. We are a nation of facebookers and youtubers for whom it is not enough any more to experience something for ourselves but we have to share it or show it for others to pass judgment (like or dislike).

Some of the key figures in the movie learn that they are entertainers as well as fighting for their lives. They are playing to the crowd. How others see them is more important than who they really are. Peeta who plays the lead opposite Katniss says before the games begin that he hopes they don't change him. He doesn't want "them" to control him. But, they do change him and everyone else. Everyone is changed by the need to play a part. To play to the crowd. To please those who have control of your life. Katniss, for one, learns that image is power and it's a knowledge that rattles the president of the Capitol (and sets up the next book). As our society becomes more and more a society of watchers, it begs the question: How are we being changed by who is watching.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A Way of Life

Interesting....or sad.... or just of sign of the way of life today. Peyton Manning, the former Colts football player who sat out a year with a seriously injured neck, who was let go by those same Colts signed a contract with the Denver Broncos today. It's reported to be 96 million dollars over 5 years. That's a lot of money by the way. In Kodiak, our school budget is short about 3.5 million. That means we either shut down one elementary school or let go 40 or so untenured teachers. That's a lot of teachers. Don't have to be a rocket scientist, as they say, to see what our way of life values most.

In basketball, the NCAA tournament heads into its second weekend. It is down to 16 teams or 15 teams and Kentucky. Kentucky is loaded. The team is projected to have the number 1 and 2 top picks in the next NBA draft. Two other players, both sophomores, are predicted to go in the second round. We need to be reminded again and again that this is a college basketball tournament because many of the players on the top teams do not spend much time in college. Why would they? Let's see million dollar contracts or an education. It's our way of life.

In baseball, the best player in the National League who played this past season on the world champion St.Louis Cardinals took his game to the highest bidder and moved to the west coast to play in the American League. Albert Pujols ten year contract with the Angels is reported to be 240 million dollars plus incentives over 10 years. That's 40 million more than the Cardinals for whom Pujols played the past 10 years, the only other team he has played for. Guess 40 million makes it worth the hassle of moving your household. Not to mention nicer winter weather.

Now I like Pujols and I've seen him do some good things with his wealth from baseball. It is not his fault that he plays a sport he is very good at that pays him a lot of money to perform. I like to watch the NCAA tournament, too. It is great basketball. I like Peyton Manning, too. From everything I've seen he is a class act all the way. But, do I have to even say that there is something wrong with a way of life that values the contributions of a Manning, or a Pujols or a Clooney or a Madonna way more than a teacher or a nurse or a someone who is hired to take care of your children or parent in a nursing home.

Jesus, who knew something about the inequities of life, said this: "the person who loves his life will lose it but the person hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." We can debate the specifics of what he meant there. But, its pretty clear he was talking about two ways of life. One leads to life and one to death. A way of life that values money above all else, that says you gotta follow the money, that makes money the measure of all things - well seems like Jesus was saying there is different way, a better way of life.