Saturday, February 15, 2014

On leaving the film, Winter's Tale...

One grasps the headlines from the Google news site, desperate for some glimmer of actions by leaders in many fields, that would move the world closer to some kind of security, tolerance, respect and dignity for all. And one is left glimpsing the ideas that the U.S. and China are at least talking about ways to tackle global warming and climate change, that the U.S. is considering enhanced sanctions against Syrian dictator Assad, that Putin's Russia is struggling to "romance" the Ukraine back into the Russian 'bed' while the west is also courting her emergence as the latest western debutante.
 One finds, in Canada, an internal split in the Conservative party, the governing party, over whether to deliver on a campaign promise of income splitting, a measure that would inordinately favour the most wealthy Canadians, the targeted funding base of that political party.
In Sochi, Canadian Luge officials argue that the temperature of the ice for their sport changed between the time the Russians competed and the Canadian sliders road down the track, at a much slower speed because of the softness of the ice. They have lodged an official complaint which is being investigated by the Olympic committee.
One learns that in the United States, the current figures for adolescent suicide are considered an "epidemic" by those professionals serving in that field: one in five have either attempted or committed suicide. One also learns that heroine has become the drug of choice among many upper and middle class white people who have become addicted to pain-killers like Oxycontin, the price of each pill now running between $30 and $40, as compared with a packet of heroine at between $6 and $10 for the same high. Naturally, in a culture/climate/economy like the current malaise, these figures are linked to the failed war on drugs, to the loss of employment, to the hopelessness of many whose lives are increasingly  deprived of the kind of human contact that comes from conversation about real thoughts and real feelings through an dramatic tilt toward social media. I listened yesterday to one early forties professional tell me that he has 49 people who "like" his photos on photoshop, "but I do not know any of those people and none of them knows me!"
And, after sitting in a movie theatre last night, and watching Winter's Tale, one finds a kindred spirit in Mark Helprin, the author of the novel on which the movie is based. He once wrote these words while defending another piece of his work:
Despite its lack of mechanical perfections, humanity, as stumbling and awkward as it is, is far superior to the machine. It always has been and always will be, and this conviction must never be surrendered. But surrender these days is incremental, seems painless, and comes so quietly that warnings are drowned in silence." Helprin, Mark (21 September 2009). "In defense of the book: a reply to the critics of Digital Barbarism". Retrieved April 7, 2010. (both the quote and its source are from Wikipedia, Retrieved, February 15, 2014)
And while conservative and liberals can and do agree on his insight, we humans nevertheless stumble awkwardly in our many and varied and halting pursuits of some kind of coherence and meaning, especially when our most glaring comparison currently is with machines that seem to be grabbing up many of the previously owned "functions" of the human being and doing them more quickly and more accurately than we ever did or could.
We say one thing, while simultaneously doing its opposite. We learn new information that is directly relevant and applicable to our personal health and well-being, while at the same time acting as if we have never heard of the new information, appearing to disregard our own health and our responsibility for its maintenance.
We champion the rich, and aspire to achieve its status, knowing all the while that such achievement is widely reported and reputed to be hollow in the extreme. We hear echoes of ideals of equality linked to the dignity of each person, while we celebrate the financial "success" of the very few. We select some for political leadership, only to watch their "clay feet" come rising from the ashes of their own ambition, knowing that, in a similar circumstance we might likely fall just as dramatically on our own sword, without skipping a beat in our condemnation of the "other's fall".
We point poisonous fingers of hate at the failings of others, as if we were immune from similar disasters; and when we find ourselves in a "sticky-wicket" we believe that we "have made our beds and have to get ourselves out on our own"....the kind of monstrous over-simplification that comes from extremely toxic parenting.
We attempt through legislation to plug the loopholes in regulation that permit credit derivatives and credit swaps, never before designed and implemented until our brightest mathematicians on Wall Street proved the dangers of their elite education, linked to their creative imaginations and their uber-ambition and greed.
We read this morning, something posted by the Princeton economist, Paul Krugman, that neither surprises nor causes us to question the veracity of his information:
In 2012, the top 40 hedge fund managers and traders were paid a combined $16.7 billion, equivalent to the wages of 400,000 ordinary workers. (Paul Krugman, "Inequality, Dignity and Freedom," The New York Times, February 13, 2014)
And we are prompted to ask ourselves, "Have we not learned anything from the debacle that nearly sent all of us over the cliff in 2008, or are we still worshipping at the altar of wealth and power and insouciance that apparently accompanied so many hedge-fund managers to New York in the last decade.
And we play out our little often futile attempts to absorb so much data, and to make some sense out of it, in conversations with friends and colleagues who, too, are overwhelmed by the speed of change, the flow of new information, the adjustment that the new technologies require in our swim against the tide of new appliances with new and faster capabilities, separating those whose fingers played on these new keypads from their cribs from those of us whose introduction to them came after six decades of living without them.
And we know it is not surprising that relief from our confusion and discombobulation and ennui, even in a supernatural escape film like Winter's Tale, can bring a new and rejuvenated appreciation of a full moon, as we leave the theatre on a wintery Valentine's Friday night, complete with a Ray Conniff melody on the Escape channel on XM radio on the car's stereo system. It can also bring renewed hope in the capacity of the human mind and spirit to create such an experience and to reflect on the larger and more significant and more engaging questions of what is good and how does evil enter our consciousness, staining the virgin snows of a mythical upstate New York estate with the blood of its own demonic possession, and its militaristic obeisance to the dreaded Lucifer.
Shades of Milton's Paradise Lost, of the darkness of Hades in Greek mythology, of the winged horses and heroic rescues of both history and myth and of the lost miracles of parted waters and bountiful unexpected harvests ring in one's head while munching a salad and sandwich after the movie.
And, in the midst of all of our collective angst, our personal aloneness, our family's dysfunction, our church's abuses, our schools emptiness and our workplace vacuums, we are nevertheless highly and intimately connected in some glorious and mythical tapestry that continues to self-generate, in both its beauty and its ugliness, as it helps us to focus on the really important and sustaining relationships in which we are fully naked, fully vulnerable and fully accepted and loved. Happy Valentine's Day, with thanks and humility to Helprin and Crowe and Smith and Ferrell and Marie Saint, and Jessica Brown Findlay.
Whether the critics gave the movie a five-star rating or not is of little consequence to this member of its audience. It stirred many reflections, and will linger for some time as a catalyst for new reflections.

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