Dramedy. Very thoughtful, at times profound, ultimately cynical worldview. Nicolas Cage is a ladder-climbing weather man on the local channel who is struggling to get his big break as a national weather man in New York. Trouble is, he is estranged from his wife and kids, and can’t seem to figure out why they always argue and fight and what he did to get to this place of misery in his life. A universal dilemma: Should he go for the big career and leave his family behind or should he stay in the small time job to reconcile and rebuild with his family. Or is this even possible? A great quandary of a story. This story is an incarnation of Ecclesiastes, but without God as the answer. It is Nietzschean existentialism in that Cage is a man who struggles with his lack of real meaning. And life in this movie is portrayed as full of pain and misery. Cage’s father (Michael Caine) is dying of inoperable lymphoma, Cage’s teen daughter is obese and entirely apathetic, as all too many teens are these days. And Cage’s son is unbeknownst to all, being hit on by a child molester who is his shrink. Caine, the father, a Pulitzer prize winner whom Cage tries desperately and unsuccessfully to win his acceptance, has come to realize that all he has accomplished in life will not help him when he is dead. He calls this a “shitty life.” The central metaphor of the film, is of course, the weather, and how unpredictable it is. The fact of the matter is, everyone wants to be able to predict it, wants to plan their lives around it, but in fact, at the end of the day, you just can’t do it. Cage gets so impatient with all the citizens who approach him on the street asking what the forecast is, and he tells them, he doesn’t know, you can’t know. And they of course get angry with him, because of their faith in his predicting ability. As one weather pro tells us, “It’s just wind. It blows all over the place. I don’t predict it.” And as Cage echos this in his realization, “things didn’t work out the way I predicted.” It’s actually quite reminiscent of Ecclesiastes, Eccl. 1:14 “I have seen all the works which have been done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and striving after wind. Eccl. 2:17 So I hated life, for the work which had been done under the sun was grievous to me; because everything is futility and striving after wind.” And then there is the thread of how many times others throw food at him from their cars when they see him on the sidewalk. All a very bittersweet comedy that Cage does so superbly, mixing the dregs of life with it’s humorous moments. Cage’s revelation occurs when he realizes that his ontological reality is throw away cheapness without value. Or as he quips, “I’m fast food.” This is all standard existentialism and is really quite authentic and thoughtful. The problem is that it remains in death without hope or transcendence. By the end of the story, Cage notes, that “every year, the possibilities of who I could be get reduced to one, who I am.” He concludes that you must “become what you are,” as Nietzsche would put it. Rather than changing and reconciling or beginning the way toward healing, as most mainstream movies would do (indeed as Cage’s other movies often do, like Family Man), The Weather Man opts out for remaining “eternally the same,” that is, Cage accepts who he is as who he is supposed to be, or rather become, and resigns himself to his world of big city national weather, leaving his family in the dust. A rather unsatisfying decision in my mind that is trying to be “realistic,” but I consider it really just nihilistic. Ironically, his father, who is dying, retains some shred of understanding and transcendence when he mentors Cage that “nothing of value in life is gotten without sacrifice.” And in relation to whether he should take the job in NY or stay near his family, the father says, “The hardest thing to do and the right thing to do are often the same thing.” Cage doesn’t take his dad’s advice though and ends up choosing himself over his family. This was a story with great potential, indeed some actual great insights, that ultimately suffers from it’s nihilistic vision packaged in a “get real” cloak. One of the offensive elements was the cussing. The F-word was so inappropriately used in this story that one could only get the impression that this is another cynical foul-mouthed Hollywood writer’s interpretation of normal people getting real. Doesn’t work. Isn’t real. Wasn’t necessary. The storytellers would do wise to consider the words of King Solomon, Eccl. 2:24 “There is nothing better for a man than to eat and drink and tell himself that his labor is good. This also I have seen that it is from the hand of God. 25 For who can eat and who can have enjoyment without Him?”
Existentialist romantic dramedy. Steve Martin has written a rather thoughtful piece here that seems deeply heartfelt and struggles with the issues of true love, transcendence and the ache of lonlieness in our existence. Claire Danes is a young woman who has to decide between an older man uninterested in comittment and intimacy, but wealthy and fun (Steve Martin), and a young poor artistic kid who grows up and seeks to give her the intimacy she longs for (Jason Schwartzman). Of course, she goes with the older man and experiences the fun, while the young man goes and finds himself and learns how to love by listening to hours of “relationship” lectures while being a roadie for a rock band. There is some rather pedantic narration in the film by Steve Martin that spells out the theme of Claire’s quest. He tells us she is seeking for some “omniscient” person to come down into her life and give her meaning and intimacy to quiet her lonlieness. She thinks the older man with his maturity can do this, but of course, he cannot connect with her as she needs. Claire ultimately realizes she can “hurt now or hurt later,” and finally chooses the young man who has by now transformed into more of a gentleman who has concern for making her happy. Knowing Steve Martin’s background in philosophy, and considering his line about the woman wanting someone “omniscient” to come down into her life (shot with a heavenly perspective, down through her sun roofed house), I can’t help but think that this is an existentialist parable about man’s quest for transcendence in deity, but his ultimate inability to find his real need for personal connection in that deity. Martin plays the mature father figure who is rich and has everything and bestows gifts as he wills upon Claire. He is benevolent, but distant, unable to truly connect on a personal heart level. The young man Claire opts for is a bit rough, earthly and human, but he can love her at her level, the human level. This is a common theme in humanist and existentialist literature. The belief that God is somehow distant and unable to fill our “human needs.” Thus only another human can meet that need, and thus, the highest love to these people is the romantic connection with a lover. This is certainly an understandable sentiment, and not altogether unforgivable, as man is indeed distant from God and cut off from the personal touch he was created to have. But this is the dilemma, the problem. It is the story of a blind man telling us there is no light or visual images, so we must accept our darkness. As heartfelt as this is, and even honest, I don’t buy it. God is personal, more personal and more intimate with us than we can even imagine. The fact that we are blind or limited in our finitude does not mean reality is subject to our ignorance. As a matter of fact, God did become the earthy, sweaty human in order to connect with us, in order to meet us on our level, in order to love us intimately and personally. He did this in his Son, Jesus Christ. John 1:14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. He lived, he cried, he drank, he sweat, he bled and he died, all for his people, those who would believe on his name. And his resurrection was the very thing that established him as that transcendent omniscient being who could in fact come down and rescue us and give us meaning and intimacy that we long for. The problem with the existentialist is that he acknowledges man’s need for transcendence and deity, he just assumes there is none to meet that need. This is perhaps the saddest ignorance of all. Acts 17: 23-31 Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things; and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation, that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His children.’ “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”
Heavy psychological drama. This biopic of the infamous effeminate, lisping, out of the closet homosexual author of In Cold Blood focuses on his relationship with one of the killers of that heinous crime of the 60s. It rather insightfully captures how Capote’s simultaneous obsession and manipulative relationship with that killer created a moral crisis in his life so effective that he never wrote another novel afterwards. It is not a flattering portrait, but it is not an attack piece either. It is at once, both sensitive to the unfriendly suspicion of him by a morally upright society who nevertheless loves his writing, and unhesitatingly frank about Capote’s own aristocratic and hypocritical snobbery toward that same society. And in this movie, I found the morality of that American society refreshingly fair and without the harsh hateful judgment of it made by so many other movies. And yet, it reveals Capote’s self-delusion of being an honest man who “doesn’t lie.” He fancies himself honest and frank, but in reality, he lies from beginning to end to the killer in order to get his story. He masquerades with a pseudo-concern for the man’s rights against an unfair system of capital punishment, but between his lines we see that he is concerned about getting enough time to finish the story. And his concern for the humanity of the killer, is really a ploy to get inside the head of the killer to figure out what motives drive the evil that men do. Yet, in this course, he does connect with the humanity of the killer and finds himself in the killer. In the same way that the killer used his victims without concern for this humanity to achieve his ends, so Capote has used the killer as a thing to achieve his story without concern for his humanity. But so much of this is understated by showing Capote’s emotional reactions to specific events, like the killer’s death row last meeting, but not explaining his actual thoughts. Capote’s own ambiguities come through elsewhere when he reveals tidbits of his personal struggles. The theme of the movie is expressed when Capote says to his companion, Harper Lee, that he sees the killer and himself as being raised in the same family, but the only difference is that killer went out the back door and Capote went out the front door. Very powerful insight into the nature of crime and evil that I think is very needed in this world. It is a premise that I work from in my own writing, namely, that the interest in evil is not that it is something remote and fascinating for it’s own sake, or that it is an example of how environment or even chemicals makes “them” different from “us.” But rather that the evil that resides in such abominable beings, resides in us all. Depravity is an inheritance of the whole human race, me included. Well, I don’t want to scare anyone, but when I write evil characters, like killers, evil guards in POW camps, cowards, or whatnot, I simply look deep into myself and take what selfish or evil traits I struggle with and expand them to an extreme, as if I had fed them instead of feeding the pursuit of righteousness that I must continue to do. Capote is dialogue heavy, but I enjoyed it because Capote was a witty and Shaw-like man of words, and the movie captured that so well. Philip Seymour Hoffman embodies him so truthfully that I was captivated by listening to what he said at every moment.
Romantic melodrama. A tale about two sisters, diametrically opposite in personalities and lifestyles, who battle through life, yet find themselves as necessary to each other’s existence as yin and yang. Toni Collette plays the lead, a slightly homely, bookish lawyer at a firm in the city, who struggles to find a man of quality who will love her with integrity. Her foil, and yang sister, played by Cameron Diaz, is the blonde promiscuous modelesque bimbo, who literally cannot read well, but can catch any guy she wants, at least for one night. In a way, these are complete stereotypes, but because their story is rich with background and relational detail, it did not bother me one bit. In fact, I think this is the best kind of “universal” writing that incarnates character types but gives them complexity, thus enabling us to find ourselves in them, without reacting to caricatures. Toni finds herself in a predicament when her immature sister, Cameron, is out of a job and a place to stay. We quickly discover their antagonism as opposites and are devastated by the ultimate betrayal, when Cameron sleeps with Toni’s new hopeful boyfriend. This sets in to motion a story that is clearly a “unity of opposites” story, a yin and yang worldview that culminates in the conclusion that Toni needs her sister to compliment her existence, no matter how crazy she makes her. In this sense, the story has a definite dualistic worldview that drives it. This pagan approach however does not negate the powerful emotional truths that are throughout it. Cameron discovers a grandmother (played with pure class by Shirley MacLaine) they thought was dead and seeks her out at a “retirement community for active seniors.” What she discovers in the process is herself, and a way out of her selfishness, when she works at a local care center for the seniors and becomes a fashion shopping assistant for the elderly ladies. This is a wonderful story of redemption. Unfortunately, in order to get there, much of the movie is a fashion show of Cameron’s body in various sexy outfits, obviously an attempt to make an otherwise serious melodrama more “appealing” to mainstream audiences. I found it indicative of the mistrust of this genre by the marketers that they cut the trailers to make this look like a romantic comedy, which it wasn’t. It was more Terms of Endearment, than As Good As it Gets. Be that as it may, it was a touching and humorous experience. And there was a particularly poignant scene that only a woman could write (well, not really, but most men just don’t get it) where the two sisters talk at a diner and Toni tells Cameron that she is foolish to live as she does, giving herself to every man, because she is getting older and she will lose her looks and then where will she be. By then, all the men she allows herself to be used by will go for a prettier 20-something and cast her aside. A 50-year old tramp is not attractive, she’s pathetic. This seems to me the single most powerful sadness of the promiscuous woman. She thinks she is liberated, but she is actually more enslaved by the worst of humanity that the male species brings. Another great sequence shows how this “openness” to men’s appetites makes her a vulnerable and blind victim to predators, as she naively takes a car ride and drinks from two male strangers “helping” her find her towed car. Well, Toni finally realizes a quality man who had been around her all the time, but she missed him, because he was shy, but in the end, his character was revealed by his concern for Toni’s happiness than his own, a fine definition of love. Unfortunately, Toni has such serious emotional psychological problems with her family’s past that she cannot allow herself to be loved, which jeopardizes her engagement to said quality man. It all surrounds the fact that their mother killed herself when they were young. She had psychological problems and stopped taking psychotropics so she could be more “there” for the girls. But when her husband threatened putting her in a hospital, she killed herself. Thus giving the husband a guilty conscience in hiding his daughters from the grandma because she would blame him for the mother’s death. By the end, everyone is forced to at least begin dealing with their issues in communicating to one another their fears and issues. Very redemptive story. One element I did not like was the conclusion where Toni’s sister is reconciled to Toni and she says this poem at Toni’s wedding. Then, when Toni leaves with her new husband, there is this connection that is communicated between the sisters in voice over as well as visual that they are necessary to each other to their dying days. Well, this viewpoint is obviously written by a writer who has clearly not experienced the sacred unity of husband and wife that trumps old family connections and creates a new deeper one, a bond of spirit and flesh (Genesis 2:22-24). Spirit is thicker than blood. But that doesn’t mean blood is irrelevant, and this movie brings a welcomed, though slightly flawed, appreciation of those blood ties.