Category Archives: Movies

Meaning of the Movie “Paterson”

My wife and I just watched Paterson, the new movie written and directed by Jim Jarmusch. It touched me unlike any film I’ve seen in years; I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. And what was on the screen? A box of matches, a guitar, cupcakes, the inside of a bus, the outside of a dreary house, a dark dive bar, an ugly dog, old city streets and buildings, lots of circles and twins, a waterfall, a bridge, lines of poetry, and  … mature love.

The film made the ordinary seem … extraordinary. It reminded me of Thornton Wilder’s play “Our Town,” which also exalts the wonder of ordinary things. Paterson and his wife find beauty and love in and among the ordinary. They literally create their own meaning to life, by filling its blank canvas with poetry, music, cupcakes, and conversation. What a contrast their relationship is to the toxic masculinity and over-sexualized femininity that permeate our culture. The two of them never seem to get what they want but, at the same time, they somehow have everything they want.

The film is an ode to mindfulness, to love, and ultimately to life itself. I will watch it again.

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Here are some reviews of the film:

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/richard-brody/jim-jarmuschs-paterson-and-the-myth-of-the-solitary-artist

https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/paterson-2016

https://www.vox.com/culture/2016/12/28/14089484/paterson-review-adam-driver-jim-jarmusch-phenomenology-poetry

http://straightfromamovie.com/tag/paterson-movie-explained/

Poem from Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day has long been one of my very favorite movies. On one level it is a very funny movie; on another, it is a particular take on Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence. It is definitely a film that rewards rewatching. In fact, the legendary film critic Roger Ebert reviewed it twice and included it in his list of great movies. In his 2005 review he says:

“Groundhog Day” is a film that finds its note and purpose so precisely that its genius may not be immediately noticeable. It unfolds so inevitably, is so entertaining, so apparently effortless, that you have to stand back and slap yourself before you see how good it really is.

The film is about a jerk who slowly becomes a good man. Listen to Ebert again:

His journey has become a parable for our materialistic age; it embodies a view of human growth that, at its heart, reflects the same spiritual view of existence Murray explored in his very personal project “The Razor’s Edge.” [Another of my favorite movies.] He is bound to the wheel of time, and destined to revolve until he earns his promotion to the next level. A long article in the British newspaper the Independent says “Groundhog Day” is “hailed by religious leaders as the most spiritual film of all time.”

The movie is about a guy named Phil, played by Bill Murray, who is living the same day over and over again. He is essentially immortal. In the scene below, Phil’s co-worker Rita, played by Andie McDowell, recites a few lines of poetry. Here are the lines that precede the ones she recites:

High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,

And here is the scene in which she recites the poem’s next lines:

The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonored , and unsung.

(from “Breathes There The Man,” an excerpt from “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,”
~ Sir Walter Scott.)

Scott is saying that no matter how famous or wealthy, narcissists are among the worst of humankind, and they will be remembered as such.

Brief reflection – How these lines apply to so many Republican politicians, their wealthy owners, and the sycophants that surround them both. We can only hope that the long arc of justice does move forward. But I have my doubts.

Politics and the Movie Fargo: For a Little Bit of Money

Today’s Republican party believes that tax cuts for the wealthy, despoiling of the environment, and the loss of health-care from millions is a sufficient reward for enabling the slow rot of constitutional government. They believe Presidential actions that would cause them to be apoplectic if done by a member of the opposing party–interfering with FBI investigations for example—are fine if done by a member of their clan. After all, tax cuts for the wealthy, incarceration of minorities, media based on conspiracy theories, gangsterism and nepotism at the highest levels, and so much more is profitable.

For modern-day Republicans: wealth is power; power is the bottom line; might makes right; and the ends justify the means—as the Greek Sophists, Machiavelli, and Nietzsche taught long ago. And no New York Times/Washington Post op-eds, or moral arguments will decrease their lust for power. At the moment their opponents aren’t relative power equals, so they will do what they want, however immoral, to impose their will.

All this got me to thinking about one of the final scenes in the Coen brothers movie, Fargo.

In the scene, a simple, kindhearted, woman speaks to a psychopath who has killed multiple people for money. (See video above.)

Now the politicians that undermine our political system do collect vast sums of money, and they increasingly have law enforcement under their control, but I wonder if it’s in their long-term interest to undermine a relatively stable social system in which they are the primary beneficiaries. Mob mentality, which increasingly has become their modus operandi, leaves everyone looking over their shoulder and invites more social unrest. Whose to say that the violence they unleash might not come back to haunt them? In the long run, I doubt this state of nature will be good for anyone. But many might have to suffer, as generations before had to do, before they realize this. On the other hand, we may all be in for immense suffering in the coming decades—even those in the world’s most powerful countries.

(For a bit more I suggest two recent op-eds. “The conservative mind has become diseased” by Michael Gerson of the Washington Post; and “Trump doesn’t understand how to be president. The Comey story shows why“, by E. J. Dionne of the Washington Post.)

Good luck America. And good luck to the rest of the world which lives in the shadow of our neurosis.

Review of Michael Moore’s: Where To Invade Next

Last night I watched, Where to Invade Next, a 2015 American documentary film written and directed by Michael Moore.[3][4] (The film can be watched free with an Amazon Prime account, or rented for a few dollars here: Where to Invade Next; or purchased for a few more dollars here: Where To Invade Next.)

The film received positive reviews from critics. Review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes reports that 78% of 169 reviews are positive, with an average rating of 6.7/10. The site’s consensus states: “Where to Invade Next finds documentarian Michael Moore approaching progressive politics with renewed — albeit unabashedly one-sided — vigor”.[15] On Metacritic, the film holds a 63/100 rating, based on 33 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”.[16]

I think it is Moore’s best film, managing to be solemn and humorous at the same time. My reaction was more somber. For me, the film reveals, without explicitly saying it, how the toxic masculinity of American society, especially our propensity for violence and domination, leaves us bereft of community, compassion, and respect for human dignity. Social harmony and caring, juxtaposed with social dysfunction and aggressive competition, make the USA look horrific by comparison. Our cruelty and brutality are on full display and, compared with more civilized countries, American social policies are revealed for what they are—sheer madness.

In the film Moore visits (invades) various countries and claims some of their most successful ideas for the US. The idea is that rather than invade to destroy, we invade to learn how we could have a better and more just society.

Here are the countries he visits, and topics he considers, in order of appearance:

No one could watch the film objectively, assuming they realized that everything Moore is saying is true, and restate that stale line “America is the greatest country.” In fact, one should draw nearly the opposite conclusion. I highly recommend the film.

The Movie “Spotlight”: Philosophical Reflections

(This article was reprinted in the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, August 14, 2016.)

Last night I watched “Spotlight,” one of the finest films I’ve seen in years.

The film follows The Boston Globes “Spotlight” team, the oldest continuously operating newspaper investigative journalist unit in the United States,” and its investigation into cases of widespread and systemic child sex abuse in the Boston area by numerous Roman Catholic priests. It is based on a series of stories by the “Spotlight” team that earned The Globe the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.[7] … The film … was named one of the finest films of 2015 by various publications. Spotlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture along with Best Original Screenplay … (from Wikipedia)

I am no expert on pedophilia and there is no consensus about its causes even among experts. However, pedophilia does not appear more prevalent among Catholic clergy than among other professions. The best estimates are that about 4% of the general population are pedophiles and between 90 and 99% of these are men. This is consistent with “the best available data … [that] 4% of Catholic priests in the USA sexually victimized minors during the past half-century.”

Still, we recoil when abuse is perpetrated by those who claim to be moral exemplars. Many expect the mafia or military to be violent and corrupt, but not the clergy. But it doesn’t take much life experience to learn that hypocrisy is a defining trait of human beings. If someone boasts about his moral character, it’s a good bet that he is a scoundrel. As for the subsequent cover-up churches, governments, businesses, political parties and individuals usually try to hide their misdeeds, even if others are hurt in the process. This is a  near truism of human life. 

Another thing that struck me was how costly and difficult it is to do investigative reporting. It really takes a lot of work to uncover corruption, and the supposed purveyors of decency do their best to keep their hypocrisy hidden. Thus it is easy to understand attacks on the media by the rich and powerful, inasmuch as they know that a really free press is one of the only constraints on their power.

In response, a few of the most powerful have simply bought the media. Most people don’t realize that 90% of all the media in the United States is owned by one of 6 corporations. “With the country’s widest disseminators of news, commentary, and ideas firmly entrenched among a small number of the world’s wealthiest corporations, it may not be surprising that their news and commentary is limited to an unrepresentative narrow spectrum of politics.” – (Ben Bagdikian, former dean of the School of Journalism at UC-Berkeley)

Given this state of affairs, the spotlight investigative team deserves our unending praise for uncovering just a small bit of the corruption that surrounds us. I also thank them for reminding me once again that a defining trait of many human beings is hypocrisy.