And… We’re Back.

It’s been 2 years. I’m somewhere I never expected to be. Perhaps I lost my way when I stopped writing? To, er, herald a new beginning and all that blarney, here’s a (frivolous?) piece I wrote a few years back through my dreamy-sounds-intellectual phase (the irony is not lost on me):

Weaving On-Screen Magic

Some of the most memorable lines I always carry close to my heart are from movies, said by perennial characters that I’ll never cease to love. People who show a strength of person, integrity and a force of will that just blows you away – people who you can spend intimate moments with, watching them on screen over and over again and each time just learn something new, marvelling at their very being and wishing once again that they were real. The feeling you get when you see someone who embodies your convictions living, breathing, moving on screen as you try to drink in every word, every gesture, every unspoken thought, is simply too sacred to explain in words.

That’s the beauty of music – they can’t get that from you. Haven’t you ever felt that way about music? [In Prison] is where it makes the most sense! You need it so that you don’t forget… Forget that there are places in the world that aren’t made out of stone… That there’s somethin’ inside that they can’t get to, they can’t touch, that’s yours… Hope.

Quoted above are some very powerful words from The Shawshank Redemption, as said by Andrew Dufresne (Tim Robbins), an innocent banker unjustly serving two life sentences at prison – a man with patience of the highest order, proving very meticulous and exacting, sincere, learned and a true connoisseur of life. Incarceration is perhaps one of the worst, most crushing experiences of life, and he faces it with simple acceptance, never complaining once about his burden, and occasionally sporting a beatific smile as he experiences something ‘normal’, something reminiscent of what it was like “on the outside”. Instead of wallowing in self-pity and whiling away time, he uses his skills in a constructive manner – he builds the prison’s library collection, does the prison officials’ taxes, carves small sculptures from alabaster and soapstone, and once even plays Mozart’s Le Nozze Di Figaro (The Marriage of Figaro) over the prison’s PA system – all the while never losing hope of gaining his freedom someday. What I truly found inspirational was how he appeared to be leading a life more fulfilling than most of us “on the outside”, to whom freedom is just an obscure idea, too easily taken for granted to give serious thought to. He truly reminds me of those lines from Book One of Milton’s Paradise Lost:

The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

Freedom is a value, a right that is extremely basic to my sense of being. I confess that I detest these regional movies that depict women as not independent entities, but as part of some family, or “belonging” to some man or, worse, a decorative object. I admire strong and intelligent women with a fierce sense of self, the capacity to endure adversity, and with the core of my being despise these derogatory farces that epitomize stereotyping and constantly serve to deride a woman’s role in society. I do recognize the real and unique capacity of a woman as a care-giver, a source of empathy and, well, love, but what I see on-screen (and, to my horror, what I see people mimicking in real life) is a mockery, a debasement of this very precious being. An exception to this usual story was Alicia Nash, as portrayed by Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind. Her character may not reconcile with the real Mrs. Nash, but the on-screen woman who saw the maverick John F. Nash, Jr. (the Nobel prize winning Economic Mathematician) through his debilitating schizophrenia is a true gem of all womankind. Not defining her identity by the man she has married, yet staying true to her promises of “in sickness and in health, till death do us part” at a time when any woman would have seriously considered severing all ties, she stood by him and helped him overcome his disability, when he truly needed her. She shows us the real commitment it takes to enter the institution of marriage. She shows us the kind of raw grit and courage that it takes to stay true to promises once made.

Courage and determination are all too familiar to each of us, being commercialized and sold in practically every movie with one hero magically knocking out twenty goons without any sort of physical contact. But, as Atticus Finch (another well known and well loved character played by Gregory Peck in the 1962 movie To Kill A Mockingbird) so beautifully hints, courage is starting something knowing that you’re licked. A character who made an extremely strong impression on me, perhaps partly due to the young age at which I saw the movie, was Captain John Miller, played by Tom Hanks, in Saving Private Ryan. In the Normandy Invasion of 1944 (in France, during the Second World War), Captain Miller’s team after a long struggle emerge successful in the Omaha Beachhead front, and are raring to go home when they get orders to recover a Private John Ryan, whose mother received telegrams that her 3 other sons were killed in action, and who the army wanted to save the pain of losing her last surviving son to the same war. Sentimental as Steven Spielberg proves to be in carrying the movie with such a premise, it is a masterpiece. Captain Miller motivates his team to pursue the seemingly impossible task of locating Private Ryan over such a huge expanse of enemy territory, and shows intense dedication to his duty and goal, while taking the unfolding negative series of events with amazing light heartedness. They eventually locate Ryan, who staunchly refuses to abandon his team, and over and above the call of duty stand by him to defend his locale. Only two members of Miller’s team survive with Ryan, Miller himself falling prey to the Germans. The most poignant scene of the movie unfolds with the dying Miller telling Private John Ryan, “Earn it,” as we all should be reminded every minute of every day to earn what our forefathers, our family and our well-wishers so passionately strove to provide for us, to earn this luxury of having been born free humans.

The only other character who joins this “elite” pantheon of sorts is a rather disconcerting addition, in the view of many. Dr. Hannibal Lecter – as magnificently portrayed by Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal – a genius psychiatrist who turns out to be a psychopath (due to extremely traumatizing childhood experiences) using cannibalism as a method of “cleansing” the world of incompetence and general pedestrianism. Dr. Lecter is highly accomplished and multifarious in his learning and taste (pun intended). In spite of his rather exotic culinary preferences, he happens to be a spotless example of the intellectual heights we aspire to. Rather than condemn the man due to his evil acts, those of you familiar with this character should try to see the accomplishments and exceptional quality of his person. Immaculate in his habits, a perfectionist in many ways, a true intellectual and a connoisseur of the arts and the finer things of life, Dr. Lecter is a man who, strangely enough, embodies what the modern education system hopes to produce (yet miserably fails at doing) and what a student sincerely interested in learning (as an extension of personal growth) hopes to become.

Perhaps it might seem frivolous to place such importance and pay so much attention to fictional movie characters. But in life we never chance to meet all the different kinds of people, and I could go so far as to say that not more than a handful that we happen to know would be of the stellar quality that we are so captivated by in these characters. Movies and books give us a fictional world, yet many have these positively admirable qualities embedded in characters who just jump off the page and become real people, invading our secluded, protected world and ripping it apart to show us what life really is, and what life could be. And, perhaps, they give us moments of comfort and respite, and redeeming reasons to get back into the world and go on.


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