Thursday, February 09, 2017

That's life

In the movie 20th Century Women, the young teenage boy, who is raised by his divorced mother, asks his mother a simple question.  He asks her whether she was ever in love with his father (her ex-husband.)

There were many such moments in the movie, written and directed by Mike Mills.  Reading the reviews of the movie, I was reminded of his previous movie that I enjoyed: Beginners.  I remembered that one of the things that appealed to me the most about Beginners was that it seemed so real and genuinely plausible.  This movie, too, felt the same way--a mix of characters that is not out of the domain of real world happenings.

I re-read the New Yorker essay about Mills, and this stood out in a way that I can relate to both those movies:
“Mike is obsessed by exploring the connection between the dramatic and the real,” the director Lance Hammer, a neighbor of Mills’s, said. “I think it comes from the need to believe he’s actually here, that he’s not having a dream, not floating away.”
I have always felt that fiction that makes me think and feel for the characters does so because of how real it feels.  Which is also why I have difficulty connecting with fiction that deals with a future that is far, far away, or that is mythological like with the Hobbits.  That connection between the dramatic and the real helps me understand the world, the humanity around me, which is what I am looking for--it is not mere entertainment.

Anyway, back to the son's question.  The mother's reply to her son was, well, real.

She looks at the son with a matter-of-fact face and tells him that she didn't think so.  She got married to his father because she was getting old, and was concerned that she would end up alone and unloved.  And, sure enough, they were divorced real soon after, instead of the ever after.

Real life is way too complicated.

A short story in the New Yorker was also about life that is anything but simple.

Literature and the arts help me understand my fellow humans and, therefore, my own place among us.  The empathy that I did not understand till I got older.

Before he won the presidential contest, when he was a US Senator, Barack Obama spoke about the empathy deficit, in his commencement address at Northwestern. In that, Obama said:
The world doesn’t just revolve around you.
There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit. But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit – the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us – the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.
As you go on in life, cultivating this quality of empathy will become harder, not easier.
If only this current president would read a few such short stories, or watch a few movies, or even listen to any one of Obama's commencement addresses, in order to truly understand the complicated lives that all of us lead and, therefore, to empathize.

2 comments:

Ramesh said...

Yes indeed. I can also feel for, and think of, characters from fiction. But I can equally do so with characters in science fiction of the far future, although I draw a line at fantasy.

Nice to see you having more empathy for Obama !!

Sriram Khé said...

Hey, hey, hey ... I always liked Obama as the man, as the philosopher ... my problems with his presidency, his unwillingness to get into the dirty fight that politics is all about, his decisions on international issues, and more are strictly about his policies and politics.

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