March 23, 2005

Fifty First Dates

This is a sweet movie about love in the ruins of a damaged memory. A woman forgets each day when she goes to sleep at night. A man falls in love with her and tries to work around the difficulty. It's a good double feature with Iris or even with that ancient classic, Charly. Both of those others are in the territory of bittersweet tragedy: love interrupted by terrible deteriorations, gradually attenuated. Surely that happens. But Fifty First Dates has the cosmic optimism of The Runaway Bunny: love will find a way to express itself, in whatever language. That's an important note to sound. Resignation and despair are always fallback options -- but we know a lot about those. Hope has to be taught. Fairy tales are a good way of teaching hope. This is a fine fairy tale. See it.

Posted by shea0017 at 9:59 AM

March 22, 2005

Little bits of television in ethics classes

On a Gilmore Girls episode, Suki, the cook at a small inn, asks the produce man out on a date. She then begins to have second thoughts: is this sexual harassment, since he depends on the inn for business? Is she endangering her employer, since a problem with the relationship might affect the supply of carrots? Her boss finally revokes her talking privileges, and we all applaud, because it so clear that these two brilliant, odd, perfectionistic people are very likely to be alone all their lives unless they connect to each other about more than vegetables. The Gilmore Girls takes romance very seriously.

This little bit of business, maybe 5 minutes long, is a fine introduction to the standard ethical problem about workplace relationships. It asks the question pointedly: if this one is ok, what isn't ok? And it makes it clear what's at stake in answering questions about corporate policy: people with one 70-90 year shot at happiness and fulfillment, trying to muddle their way through.

Posted by shea0017 at 10:57 AM

March 12, 2005

Robert Downey Jr. and the full complexity of media

Downey's Chaplin was a triumph. I caught a few minutes of Less than Zero recently and glimpsed the same, unmistakeable character: infinitely lovable and self-destructive and deep and innocent. It's a great role.

When writers write great self-destructive roles, they display something true: the blinding beauty of great, self-destructive people. When they cast these roles, their casting interacts with the life of the actor they cast: honor is given to what is only partly honorable.

Plato prohibited the playwrights in his fictional republic from writing psychologically dangerous characters. He was warned, I think, by watching Alcibiades, how beautiful and appealing self-destruction could be.

If I were writing a play about Alcibiades, I would cast Robert Downey Junior in the lead. But I wouldn't write such a play.

Posted by shea0017 at 1:12 PM

March 8, 2005

The impulse to kill

Before Buffy the Vampire Slayer disappears even from reruns, she deserves a bit of philosophic respect. She gets something right that Bruce and Arnold get wrong: the deep nerve of the urge to kill. My favorite Buffy episode is one where the demonic folks are stealing young kids, dressing them in shapeless sacks, and making them work for decades at exhausting and soul-destroying jobs. After this interlude, the demons return the wrecked people to their former lives. Buffy goes down to rescue the kids. There's a wonderful scene where the demon guy is chasing Buffy and gets caught in a door. He begs for mercy. Buffy raises her club and smashes his skull, saying, "This is for Gandhi (smash) on a bad day."

What's important about Buffy is that she kills things that are just pretending to be alive, when they interfere with real people. She is the ultimate pro-life warrior, and she loves her work.

Of course, in the real world, there aren't any demons, any entities that pretend to be alive and suck the life out of young healthy people. It's just a story.

Yeah, sure.

Go girl!

Posted by shea0017 at 11:47 AM

March 2, 2005

Plato and The Gilmore Girls

In the Republic, Plato worries about the moral and mental health of actors who play bad, weak, or crazy people. His concerns are not contemporary; actresses can't wait to shed the "good girl" image. Yet, watching The Gilmore Girls last night, I got the point. The people on that show, like those in Northern Exposure and Friends and MASH , are all trying to be good. When they succeed, it looks wonderful. When they fail, their trying saves them from utter disaster. I thought about how much fun it would be to play a character braver, smarter, funnier, nicer than oneself -- how much fun it is to watch such characters.

The 50s got it right, with their tv trays and popcorn. Television is, among other things, food: strength for the journey, a little bit of extra push toward doing the right thing, the hard thing, the creative thing, the kind thing. There is an unbroken tradition of fine shows that take that responsibility seriously. Compared to all the expensive and dangerous drugs routinely prescribed to medicate wobbly psychologies, this is tame and safe and it works some of time. People get a regular fix of decency, and then go out to face the world.

Posted by shea0017 at 8:48 AM