Monday, April 27, 2009

Death is the Mother of Beauty

You walk down the sidewalk and see the tiniest daisy growing from the crack in the sidewalk on which you are treading. How did its seed wind up there? More yet, how does this fragile flower grow amongst the cement. How does it thrive while being surrounded by dead, gray concrete? How does something beautiful spring from something dead? How is death the mother of beauty?
We see it every day, but sometimes we don't take the time to stop and smell the roses (or the daisy in the cement.) Sometimes we only mourn for the death instead of opening our eyes to the beauty that has been resurrected from the death.
I'm sure everyone reading this blog has experienced a death in the family or simply someone close to them. It's painful. It's devastating. We often think it is unfair. We cry. Occasionally our tears blur the vision of once fueding brothers hugging. Sometimes these tears don't clearly show a mother and daughter embracing when just two days ago they would not speak or look at eachother. Sometimes the death of a loved one brings about a rebirth of a beautiful relationship.
Dr. Sexson said that it would take years and years to find meaning to a certain line in Sunday Morning by Wallace Stevens: "Death is the mother of beauty." I somewhat disagree. I don't mean to sound like a preacher or some fanatic christian trying to convert the world. haha But, the ultimate death took place on a cross. A gruesome death. An indescribable death. A death so vile that anyone witnessing it would have been sure that no beauty could come of it. But the greatest beauty in all of existence was born, eternal life. All the ugly sins that humans commit are now able to be forgiven due to the death of one man. If that's not beautiful I don't know what is! Beauty was born of death. Death is the mother of beauty.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Past Possesses the Present. . . In Movies

Just last week I was preparing to move some of my beloved belongings from my dorm room on campus to my newly acquired apartment downtown. One of the first boxes I packed into the house was one filled with a conglomeration of the different movies I have acquired over the years. As I took each DVD out of the box, I began to compare many of the plot lines to the books being covered in this class. It was intriguing to see that I could find comparisons in nearly every movie of my collection. As intriguing as this realization was, I was most definitely not shocked. Because if there is one phrase I will take away from this class, it is “What is past possesses the present.” As diverse as the film industry is today, it is evident that the past still possesses it, for every movie has remnants of classical literature.

The first movie I put onto my shelf at home was an old favorite of mine, Legends of the Fall. I didn’t have to reflect long about how this filmed tied into ancient Greek literature. Legends of the Fall is essentially a heart-wrenching story of the feuds amongst brothers. Sound familiar? Brad Pitt, almost as dreamy and attractive as young Hermes, plays the part of the wild and charismatic brother. Pitt steals the one, single most important thing to his brother, a woman. Hermes happens to steal something of parallel importance to Apollo. He steals his cattle. I’m not one that usually compares women to cows, but the two do serve as correlating possessions in the two pieces of work. One final comparison is that both end somewhat “happily ever after.” In Legends of the Fall and the Homeric Hymn To Hermes, the two quarreling brothers reconcile and the relationship is saved.

Though I do not own this movie yet, Gran Torino was recently out in theaters and is a phenomenal film by Clint Eastwood. Great correlations between Gran Torino and the tragedy by Sophocles, Antigone, are unmistakable. This very recent film contains several of the important conflicts of life, in which we’ve learned through the reading of George Steiner’s review, Antigones. This first and most clear conflict of the movie is that between age and youth. Eastwood’s character in the film, a surly war veteran, is constantly and blatantly showing his disgust for the way in which teenager’s attitudes have declined. In conjunction, most the young adults in the show seldom show respect for Eastwood and actually resent him. Another conflict being portrayed in Gran Torino is between individual and state. Eastwood, once he has become attached to his neighbors of Hmong descent, freely goes against the laws of the state to protect and stand up for his much-loved friends. He, without restraint, vows to get revenge on the Hmong gang that torments his neighbors whether the state disagrees or not. The final conflict depicted is that between the living and the dead. The concept of death is a topic of conversation that is often repeated amongst Eastwood and his young priest. The idea of life and death often torment Eastwood causing him much anguish. Though the plotlines in Gran Torino and Antigone are actually nothing alike, the conflicts twisted into the plot are quite similar.

Of course, any movie that could in any shape correlate with Lysistrata, must be a comedy. The film in my anthology that can be comparable is most definitely of that genre. If the writers of 40 Days and 40 Nights thought they were being ingenious and original, they were very wrong. The concept of abstaining from sex for personal gain was thought of many years ago by Aristophanes. In 40 Days and 40 Nights the main character, played by Josh Hartnett, decides to give up sex for Lent in hopes that it will allow him to get over his ex-girlfriend and be able to have another relationship. This refraining from sexual intimacy is a ploy to stop a war within himself, similar to Lysistrata’s strategy to end an actual war between cities. In both Lysistrata and 40 Days and 40 Nights the war is ended. Actually, not only are both wars over, but both are reconciled with a naked woman. In 40 Days and 40 Nights, Hartnett falls in love with a woman during his abstinence and is able to consummate his love after the forty agonizing days of waiting.

Another movie pulled from my stash was the classic chick flick, Pretty Woman. We spoke of this movie in class and how it is a spoof of the story of Pygmalion in Tales from Ovid. In this movie, a man falls in love with a prostitute. He buys her new clothes, makes her over, and in the end she does turn into a “real lady.” This notion of transformation into the perfect woman springs off from Pygmalion’s adored statue morphing into a living, breathing woman. Another more literal version of Pygmalion’s story is found in the movie Lars and the Real Girl. I’ve spoken about this film both in class and on my blog previously. In Lars and the Real Girl, Lars, a socially inept man, buys a blow up doll from an adult internet website and falls in love with her. Lars and Pygmalion show very similar feelings and actions towards the fake, perfect women they love.

I found another classic western movie in my menagerie that seemed to compare to my favorite book of the semester, An Imaginary Life. The film Dances With Wolves correlated in the fact that Lieutenant Dunbar, played by Kevin Costner, was thrust into a whole new culture and had to transform himself in order to fit in. Both Ovid and Dunbar found themselves to be in villages and tribes of complete seclusion. Both men are frustrated in that they are unable to communicate due to the language barrier, but somehow break through that barricade and begin to change their own views of a seemingly “savage” culture. Other characters that correlate in both the film and book are Stands With a Fist and The Child. Stands With a Fist, like the feral child in An Imaginary Life, was thrust from her own culture into one of a total different nature, the Native American culture. They are also both terrified to leave the culture they’ve become to know and love. Stands With a Fist is frightened to return back to white culture, while The Child is frightened to return to the culture of humans. In the end all four main characters are transformed. Dunbar and Ovid, who were once the teachers, are transformed into the students. Meanwhile, Stands With a Fist and The Child, who were the students, become the teachers. Dunbar and Ovid’s outlook on a new culture, language, and way of life have changed thanks to their unsuspected teachers.

There are many movies that can be compared to our most recent reading, The Golden Ass. It’s hard not to compare any film to this story due to its diverse content. One very popular and recent film, starring Adam Sandler, is comparable to the chapter on the Festival of Laughter. Lucius is put up to a horrendous joke in which he is the only one that is oblivious. The plot of Anger Management is quite the same. Sandler’s character in Anger Management is an unconfident man who works at a cat catalog company and cannot stand up for himself or reach out to his girlfriend. This obviously bothers his girlfriend who, along with the help of a professional, rigs up an entire series of unlucky and embarrassing shams. We were told that this type of oblivious mockery is also like The Truman Show, but I have never seen this show and found Anger Management to be just as suitable.

The next movie is one that parallels to the story of Cupid and Psyche. As mentioned in my blog, the movie Monster-in-Law is the perfect example of the way in which Venus treated her own daughter-in-law in the frame narrative. Jane Fonda, the impersonator of Venus, goes to the depth of her being to eradicate her son’s fiancĂ© from her life, but love always conquers all. In both Monster-in-Law and Cupid and Psyche the conniving mother-in-law loses and love wins the battle.

My final comparison of classical literature and my very own movie collection is that of The Golden Ass and Overboard. The real transformation I noted in Lucius was not his physical metamorphosis into a donkey, but his dropping of social status. He went from a noble man to the lowest form of animal in existence. This I compare to my favorite movie of all time, Overboard, starring Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell. Goldie Hawn’s character in this movie is transformed from a pampered, pretentious socialite to a poor, overworked housewife. Both Hawn and Lucius get a taste of the lower social rank and learn what they’ve taken for granted.

This has been an entertaining paper for me to write because it intertwines two of my greatest passions: literature and movies. There are many examples of how the past possesses the present, but the greatest way in which I notice it now is through film. There is no doubt in my mind that every film produced is somehow linked to classic literature. Because, as we all know, whatever is past certainly does possess our present.