Monday, June 7, 2010

In perspective and out of touch

This was movie week and, as is the norm in my generation, I find life’s truths being played out up on the big screen.

I finally rented Up In The Air with George Clooney: I’d wanted to see it for a long time, anticipating personal connection and social commentary with my airborne lifestyle.  I got pulled into Sex and the City 2, my first exposure to the franchise.  There were only six men in the theater, and two were gay.  And I rented It’s Complicated, a more mature comedy with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.  Along with Bill Murray and Robert Downey Jr., I enjoy watching Baldwin’s evolution in the way he plays increasingly mature roles.

The quality of the movies varied wildly.  sex-city_2 I can’t say anything good about SITC2, which veered from bewildering to truly cringe-worthy. There must have been more to the series than the parade of excess goods and self-absorbed pouting that filled the bog screen.  UITA was mildly disappointing: the story was interesting but the characters never developed much depth.  I really wanted to know the moral behind Clooney’s self-improvement lectures: what did he fill his backpack with once he dropped his relationships and hit the road?   IC was jut the opposite: the story was a trifle but the characters spoke with genuinely interesting depth and honesty.

In all three, I found myself reflecting on two ideas afterwards: perspective and connection.

Up_in_the_airIn each case, the main characters lost perspective on what matters in life, on how big their problems really are, on how they are perceived by others.  While each has made bold, independent lifestyle choices, they all were struggling with the  consequences, not seeing how their problems were, in fact, self-inflicted.  As the stories unfolded, the women of SITC2 never realized it, and that made it a worse movie.  Clooney finally did; Baldwin suspected it all along.

And, in all three, the main characters had each lost touch with the reality of life around them.  There were so many ways that encounters with culturally different women could have jarred the SITC girls back to life.  Instead, in it’s worst moments, the reverse happened: they ‘discovered’ that everyone else wasn’t so different from them (Muslim women wear designer fashion beneath their burquas).  Clooney purposefully cut himself out of touch with everyone around himself, then Its-Complicated found that he couldn’t reconnect when he needed to.  Intriguingly, the displaced workers who he cut from their employers seemed to find their way better than he did.  Baldwin and Streep each have full lives that are, nonetheless, empty and out off touch: their professional and family relationships are achingly superficial and distant.  “We’ve each become what the other hoped we’d be,’ Baldwin observes, but the worlds feel created in isolation.  The children drive off, the bakeshop turns empty law partnership is meaningless.  The best moments are their dialog as they sit together and reflect on life’s turns, in touch with each other.

It’s been said that there are only two plots in movies: “A man goes on a journey” and “A stranger comes to town”. In fact, both are a reflection of the same story.  And here, despite there being three very different movies, I found only two underlying images: losing perspective and falling out of touch.  And each is just the inward and outward reflections of the other.

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