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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lost, and Finding the Stars

I've seen three movies this weekend.

I've been sorta busy, what with Ms. Conroy being hospitalized and still recovering from some serious abdominal surgery. I think I've been trying to make up for lost time.

I've seen Gravity (which I saw in 3-D), 12 Years A Slave, and Captain Phillips.

All three were amazing films, each in their own way.

If you haven't seen any of them, allow me a very brief synopsis. I promise not to give away any information that will spoil the movie for you.

Gravity is about two astronauts who survive the mid-orbit destruction of a Space Shuttle and attempt to return to Earth. I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time, palms sweaty, heart racing.

12 Years A Slave is a 2013 British-American epic historical drama film, an adaptation of the 1853 autobiography Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped in Washington, D.C. in 1841 and sold into slavery. He worked on plantations in the state of Louisiana for 12 years before his release.  The story is powerful, but, in this case, the art of story telling through film - in my humble, not well educated opinion - did not do it the justice it deserved.

Captain Phillips is the dramatic portrayal of the true story of merchant mariner Captain Richard Phillips who was taken hostage by Somali pirates in the Indian Ocean during the Maersk Alabama hijacking in 2009. This was another edge-of-the-seat sitter, with skillful storytelling to rival Argo, the 2012 Academy award winning historical drama thriller film directed by and starring Ben Affleck.

Captain Phillips and the "new captain"
As different as each of these stories is, there is an interesting theme in all three.

Each of the central characters are simply living their lives, doing their respective jobs, when something happens, out of the blue, to change the course of their lives.

You're a woman and a physician, working on an experiment in outer space, when a Soviet space station suddenly destructs and, even more suddenly, debris speeds through space, placing your space ship and - in fact, your very life - in danger.

You're a descendant of slaves, but you're a free man living in a time of slavery who makes a living selling the produce you've grown on the land that you own, augmented by the meals your wife cooks for local taverns and the music you play for rich people and suddenly, you are offered a deal that's almost too good to be true. You take it, not knowing that not only is the deal false but it is the means by which twelve years of your life are thrown into unspeakable, inhuman cruelty.

You're a merchant mariner, living a quiet life in rural Vermont when you're not at sea, earning a comfortable living for your wife and two children when the cargo ship you are sailing as captain is hijacked by Somali pirates and your life and the life of all your crew members is suddenly in danger.

Sandra Bullock in Gravity
Or, you're a Hospice nurse, not only simply doing your job but doing it with compassion and kindness, transforming your tasks into corporal works of mercy, when suddenly, three ulcers which had been silently brewing in your upper abdomen and esophagus become infected, threatening the rest of your body with peritonitis and septicemia.

In each case, you must rely on the kindness - and skill and abilities - of others to see you through. Sometimes it works and sometimes it fails miserably.

But, there are moments when you also have to dig deep into places in your heart and soul and mind and psyche previously unexplored and unexamined and, more significantly, untested. 

I don't think it is a coincidence that there are as many movies as there are right now with this theme. 

There remain greedy people who think of people as possessions and many workers in a variety of industries work at wages so low, and without health care - or any other - benefits, that their poverty begins to redefine a modern system of indentured servitude.

Racism still rears its ugly head, especially visible in the prison industrial complex. It is shocking and sobering to recognize that many prisons have a higher ratio of African Americans in its population than the prisons in South Africa during the height of Apartheid. It is also stunning to learn that many of those who are in those prisons are there for the flimsiest of reasons - tantamount to having been kidnapped off the street in broad daylight.

Drug addiction provides a dependency so strong it has been called "chemical slavery".

12-Years a Slave - The "Soap Scene"
There are Somali pirates on the Indian Ocean who look like elementary schoolyard bullies when compared with corporate pirates who plunder commodities here and abroad and bury their booty in offshore, tax exempt bank accounts.

A sudden health care crisis can throw an entire family into a tailspin of anxiety and worry but, without affordable health insurance, it can also mean bankruptcy and homelessness and hunger and serve as the portal into the endless, boundless abyss of poverty and despair.

If there are lessons to be learned from these three movies, it is about the power of one, yes, but it is also about the power of community - some of whom are complete strangers - to provide solace in inconsolable situations.

It's also about the power of people who are capable of betrayal but it is also about the power of other people to do the right thing, even if it means putting yourself in danger.

It's about the power of people to jump up and down on the arc of history until it bends toward justice.

It's about trusting the message that the lost will, one day, be found even if it means that you find in yourself the power you thought you lost (or thought you never had), to love in the face of hate, to hope in the face of despair, and to find your greatest strength in moments of your greatest weakness.

This weekend, I affirmed three things I've known, but momentary forgotten as I've wander around feeling lost in worry and concern.

There is time that is lost but that can, in fact, be found.

Redemption is not necessarily a solitary act; often it takes a community of strangers.

And this:

Sometimes, you have to reach way down in order to touch the stars.


Kay & Sarah said...

I am so sorry to hear Ms. Conroy has been so sick. I will be thinking of you both and have you in my prayers.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, dears. She's back to work - desk duty only - for the next few weeks. She's feeling much, much better. And, so's the whole family.

JCF said...

"The story is powerful, but, in this case, the art of story telling through film - in my humble, not well educated opinion - did not do it the justice it deserved."

I saw "12 Years" last weekend: I'm interested in what (specifically) prompted you to say the above.

I thought the movie was (if excruciating, obviously) brilliant.

8thday said...

I can’t express how wonderfully joyous I felt reading this post. I am just coming to the end of a long, personal healing journey myself and your beautiful words so perfectly capture that feeling of finally being able “to touch the stars” after years and years of being in a dark hole.

And yes, it was all about “trusting the message that the lost will, one day, be found even if it means that you find in yourself the power you thought you lost (or thought you never had), to love in the face of hate, to hope in the face of despair, and to find your greatest strength in moments of your greatest weakness.” And most definitely about a community of incredible, caring people who walked with me through the journey.

I belong to a support group of trauma survivors and, with your permission, would love to share this post with them. It is such a passionate expression of hope and rebirth.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - It's hard to put into word, b/c I don't know the art of film making, but I thought the story was not told as well as the book. The film was very faithful to the book, which may be part of the problem. It was written in that Victorian style of language. I thought some of the characters - mainly the Caucasians - were stilted and almost stereotypical. By the time the character portrayed by Brad Pit came on - supposedly from Canada - speaking in a southern accent, I about lost it.

Frankly, I loved the book. The film, not so much. Which is a shame, because I don't think the film did justice to the book, which it richly deserved.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

8th Day - Thank you for your kind words. I would be honored if you shared this post with others and delighted if it helps.

Nancy said...

I am quite certain that in those deepest places with the company of compassionate strangers, you have been reacquainted with knowing how deeply you and Barbara are loved by so many people. Just speaking as one of them.

Beverly Rodgers said...

Thanks be to God for Ms. Conroy's healing. I will say prayers for you both that all continues well and that you have a blessed holiday season (however busy it may be)!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Nancy. We are most certainly deeply blessed.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, Beverly. I hope your holidays are deeply blessed.