Category Archives: Movie

May Your Days and Nights Be Filled With Karls and Ninnys

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At the intersection of worlds: “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “Sling Blade.” I awoke, staring at 3:33 on the clock, hearing the resonant voices of Karl Childers and Ninny Threadgoode fading from my mind. I could feel their enchanting universes slipping away from me, foggy nostalgia as real and certain as the bed in which I found myself. The quote in the picture popped into my imagination. I don’t remember the dream which seemed to have spanned an entire life while I slept, but what a great place to live, one in which both fictional and real people would come to life and interact. It was a testament to the power and appeal of both stories, with characters so rich that it would be impossible to resist an invitation to live in their worlds.

I would reverently walk those sparse roads and listen, sit on the porch and hear the whispers through time and share a thousand laughs. Yes, even dreams would come to an end, no different than our waking life, a finite loop of possibilities. When I awoke, though, the fading resonance of a rocking chair moving against loosely-nailed boards still filled my ears – and I felt an acute loss fill my heart, the one beating between the twilights, one waking, one still in the other world.

People often connect with us in ways that can’t be easily defined. Sometimes, they do so across years, generations, and in spite of all our differences. If we are lucky enough and allow our imaginations to flourish, sometimes those characters created by others come to visit us on either side of the drowsy line. Lifetimes can be lived between these spaces. For those truly blessed, the people within the boundaries of their lives experience this daily.

I hope your day has a few Karls and Ninnys, people who light your life with interest and spark.
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(The picture is of ‘the’ house from “Fried Green Tomatoes.” You can see Ninny in the upstairs window, watching Karl and Frank below…)
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YesOrNo.com

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Note: this is an older post. Seeing Netflix and a few other sites adopt an idea I’ve had forever makes me smile – as I recommended exactly this course of action several years ago in this blog post.

I’m going to start a website called “YesOrNo.” It will cover websites, restaurants, vehicles, tourists spots, movies, music and anything under the sun. It will be a testament to minimalism and focus in a world of too many options. If you are neutral to the website, movie, or restaurant, you don’t vote. No fence-sitting is allowed.

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Instead of being weighed down by too many details, there are only going to be 2 options: “yes” or “no.” No comments. No categories to obfuscate the response. No Yelp-like lawsuits alleging vote-fixing or reviews. Studies have shown that too many options reduces our happiness and satisfaction.

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Users will need to learn to be discerning with their votes. There will be neutral option. Either you vote or you don’t – but you’re going to need to decide between “yes” or “no.”

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There will be technical issues to address governing how to identify participants and/or lessen abuse of voting. That’s true of any website or business idea. Clever, motivated people combined with technology should eliminate all the major hurdles.

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With a social element, users can choose to add “trusted voters” to their logins so that they can refine their trusted opinions over time. This will allow you to ask the website to recommend a new place or experience to you, based on input from you and others who are similarly minded. In my scenario, however, the data will be limited to tallying without superfluous detail.

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Unlike Angie’s List, users won’t be expected to pay – as such services exclude much of the population. It does tend to cause an uptick in the “crazies” noticing your website, but again, technology can overcome most of the stupidity that will ensue.

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It’s so strange to see Tinder doing well. I’ve joked about yesorno.com for a long time, especially after an old-school website called “checkthegrid” died. On my old blog I had this idea designed, with screenshots and graphs. Like most people, though, my enthusiasm usually sputters at the implementation of an idea.

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At it’s heart, the website would be simple categories, with “green” indicating “yes,” and “red” equating to “no.”

 

Ponder: The Lesson of Karl

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I think we should adopt the word “Karl” as a code word to indicate that we love someone deeply, even as we live flawed lives. Whether we like to admit it or not, even when we are comfortable with people, ‘love’ is a catch in our throats, often reluctant to escape.

“Sling Blade” is an iconic movie. Each time I watch it, I see it from a different point of view, and not only because I am not quite the same person as the last time I watched it. As tragic as it is, it is evocative of a life of connections that I would cherish.


After Doyle kicks Karl out of the house, Linda drives up as Karl is shuffling away. “You light him up in his eyes, I’ve seen it. He wouldn’t know what to do without ye….” Karl tells Linda, referring to her son Frank. Linda calls out, “Karl?” as he leaves.

When Karl leaves Frank his books, the sum total of everything he holds to be valuable in life; inside is a bookmark with the words “You will be happy” written on it. As Karl walks away, Frank turns to the trees and shouts, “Karl?”

Karl knocks on Vaughan’s door and hands him all the money he has in the world when the door opens. He tells Vaughan that he would be a good daddy to Frank and that he won’t be judged for who he is. “That boy lives inside of his own heart. It’s an awful big place….” Karl says and ambles away. Vaughan calls out, “Karl?”

Of course, Doyle looks up off-screen at Karl as he raises the sharpened lawnmower blade to kill him: “Karl?” Doyle asks, after talking calmly with Karl about being killed by him.

The last spoken word in the movie by Doyle, Vaughan, Frank, and Linda is the same: “Karl…?”

As broken as Karl’s life was, he managed to touch each of those people’s souls by his words and presence. In response, each one was powerless to respond at the same level with Karl.

I think we should agree to use “Karl?” as a code word in our daily lives. Using it would be a signal that conveys our deep understanding of who and what the person with whom we are speaking means to us.

Some words are like knives passing our lips, even when coated with the warmest regard and sincerity.

Honesty is a sharp weapon and truth is a hard master. Even in love.

“Karl,” I whisper to you all.

Living in a Glass Castle

This isn’t simply a review of the movie “The Glass Castle,” nor is it simply a biographical reflection. It is, however, an unsettling hybrid of a portion of myself and the movie. Like all things observed, our own peculiar perspective discolors the content of what we occupy ourselves with: our own face and temperament are reflected in the things we deceive ourselves into believing to be mere entertainment. While I was entertained by the movie, I was also stabbed in a way that few movies can achieve.

I knew the movie preview was slightly misleading and that it had artfully avoided showing the underbelly of what pervaded Jeannette Wall’s life. To be honest, I had forgotten the memoir, even though it was a book that I very much wanted to read a few years ago. After seeing the movie, I can appreciate just how much of the grime, horror, and shock was dropped from it. People love great stories but often recoil when the truth is laid bare. When a good writer is determined to be both honest and unflinching, some stories become too overwhelming. It’s quite the art to begin telling a story that people want to hear, but cringe as they lean in to hear the words they know will hurt them in a way that’s difficult to see.

Perversely, I was relieved to know that my instinct about the movie being sanitized was accurate. Much of the nuance was powerful and authentic; as a student of family violence, a couple of the scenes seemed disjointed to me. Perhaps it is madness to expect continuity in craziness but once you’ve filtered out the normalcy, even lunacy has its rules.

In the movie, Woody Harrelson as the dad is arguing with his daughter, insisting that she’s a revisionist to history. This pathos is one I’ve long held close to my own heart in my adult life. While I sometimes fail to steer away from revisionism, I at least know that I’m not impervious to the tendency. So many others, though, they cling to their idealized fantasies about people in our lives. They frequently take out their acquired masks and repaint them, all to tell themselves that the monsters in their past weren’t really monsters, just tormented and troubled people. People who do their best to tell their stories and to unmask their monsters are a threat to their self-identity. I want to see the monsters, both in my own life and in the lives of others. It does no one an injustice if you are sharing a piece of yourself. Each one of us owns our stories, even those pieces which darkly silhouette our lives.

I’ve written before that sometimes I observe the world and am amazed that most people seem to be unpoisoned by their own secret boxes, the ones some of us have managed to swallow, surpass, and mostly overcome. In my case, I judge most other people to be novices regarding human violence. Knowing the box is there at all robs me of a portion of my ability to live freely. It’s ridiculous to assert otherwise. If you don’t have such a box, feel glad, rather than doubtful that others had the necessity of constructing one to avoid fragmenting into incoherence.

 

After the movie and during the credits, the dad Rex was shown in grainy black and white, peering out of an abandoned building’s window, ranting about capitalism and property. It was clear that he was much angrier, unmoored, and detached than the movie would have us assume. My wife wouldn’t know it as she sat mesmerized beside me, but it was a visceral punch for me. The flash of recognition I experienced in seeing Rex as he really was versus Woody Harrelson’s impersonation of him almost untethered me. Seeing his as a ‘real’ person somehow unmasked the subtleness and veneer of the movie. Gone was the pretense of nobility or great acts. I could only see the residue of a base life, like the yellowish tint which permeates a smoker’s life. No matter what good Rex Hall might have done in his life, he was a part of what allowed children to be damaged. That any of them took this stew of disaster and emerged with great lives is a testament to our creativity and resolve.

So many of us had family members who would only marginally fit our definitions of what it means to be human. We individually adjust, trying to come to terms with the insanity of anger, knowing in our own hearts that some people are permanently damaged. We fight against the ignorance of others, the ones who insist that forgiveness and acceptance are on our plate and must be consumed. We know that anyone who hasn’t been in a room with a family member and suffered the inconvenience of knowing that our loved one truly might kill us in that moment cannot ever be reached on an emotional level. Until you’ve felt the metaphorical knife, the blade is just a vague unknowable threat.

One of my demons in life has been my aversion to a return to the crucible of anger and those who live there. I’ve been happiest when I’ve been able to reject such associations and cut the strings, and in some cases to stretch them. It’s always a fight, though, because those still melting in the crucible fight to keep you tethered to it as well. I no longer judge as harshly as I once did. Each of us decides for ourselves how our lives should proceed. Seeing the strings is all too often the first step to either severing them or ignoring them. I don’t take kindly to the angry insistence that I pay homage to the monstrous portions of my own past. I’m well aware that I have more than a few people who would gladly bash my head against a stone if it would mean they could resume believing the fantasy that my stories expose as untruths.

I know that intelligence forces us to do strange things with horror and mistreatment. Most of us buttress our sanity by converting these things into humor. It’s a skill I’ve honed for a few decades. As the credits rolled, I watched as Jeannette’s brother joked about his father’s memory, even as he sat at a table with his siblings who shared his past. I can’t speak for him. I do note, however, the brush of nostalgia in his words. Time is what grants us peace and the ability to laugh. Because life goes on, the fists and shattered bottles on the kitchen floor fade. We count our scars, both seen and unseen, and put one foot in front of another.

And sometimes, we watch a flawed movie that somehow reaches a talon inside our clenched hearts and ruptures a piece of what we’ve imprisoned away from the light. Because I know that the author of “The Glass Castle” had a life which was much worse than the movie revealed, my memory is slightly more forgiving. It makes me glad that the grandmother’s legacy has been forever stained and that some things were allowed to slither out from under the rocks to be viewed.

That a memoir such as “The Glass Castle” was written warms my heart. Jeannette Walls overcame and used her gift to sling arrows out into the world. Arrows are both weapon and tools, and she has done a great service to her own survival. The discomfort people might feel is an acknowledgment of how much suffering happens in the world. Next door, across town, wherever people live and breathe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lion (Saroo)

Sunny Pawar stars in LION
Photo: Mark Rogers

Recommendation…
Although all my friends are of considerable taste and have undoubtedly already seen the movie “Lion,” I can only tell you that it will take a hammer to your heart if you watch this movie. It’s set in both India and Australia; India steals the show.

Because it’s based on a true story, it will dawn on you as you watch that the little boy in the movie’s beginning experienced the things as portrayed. All of us imagine that we have a good idea of what constitutes tenacity and heartache but Saroo teaches us that whatever image floats in our mind’s eye is woefully short of reality.

There are a couple of moments in the movie where the sheer size of the world zooms with dizzying speed. Each change in orientation reminds us of that billions of stories unfold here each day. Among them are stories so exotic that we can’t help but feel loss at not knowing these people.

The backstory to this movie being made is another story to itself. How Nicole Kidman and Dev Patel came to it is yet another surprise. Nicole got the chance to play a mother with two adopted children, exactly as is the case in real life. The young boy who portrays Saroo as a small child is about the most endearing kid you’d care to meet. As remarkable as the movie is, so many things swirling around it make it even more spectacular.

Because the story is true, there is a moment near the end of the film where your heart collapses in on itself. Even if I tell you the surprise, it won’t prepare you for the tragic loss. It will, however, make you appreciate the moment of triumph, decades in the making, as people reconnect.

You will be jealous of those impossible moments, the ones these people waited so long to share.

It’s “just” a movie, you might say. Using that logic, though, means that our lives are “just” moments in passing. There are a finite number of possibilities for our lives. Sometimes we can share a life like the one in “Lion” and rejoice in the loss and in the triumph. This movie is not your typical movie, based on an atypical life.

I would hope that anyone who hasn’t seen it will pause their lives for a bit and give it a try. I don’t normally recommend movies because of the wide spectrum of opinions we all have. “Lion” is a movie that will connect everyone.