Movies That Show Us Ourselves

There’s a type of movie I particularly like. By its construction, such a movie helps bring forward what’s required from you to complete it. You give it its definition; that, to me, is a real viewing experience—to personalize it and make it your own, meanings as various as the numbers of people who create them.

It’s easy to identify such a picture by its reviews, which are always in marvelous disagreement as to what the picture is fundamentally about. These movies differ from the straight story types in the same way teaching styles are dissimilar, the didactic method (you’re told or shown what the point is and you learn it; the fair-minded goodness of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is an artful example) versus the socratic (you’re led to discover the point on your own). The discovery may just happen to be about yourself, because your interpretation of the movie shows something that you may not have been conscious of. I have four of these “socratic” movies in mind as examples, Agnes of God; All Is Lost and Life of Pi; and last year’s Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Birdman, all movies that introduced me to myself more fully, the first exposing a core spiritual value system, the next two the strength of a spiritual belief, the last the depth of my perception. The films cover quite a span of years, paralleling stages of personal development I had to go through to be ready for them.

Agnes of God (1985)

This was the first that made me aware of the type of movie I describe. In it, a newborn is found strangled and disposed of in the room of a young nun, Sister Agnes. She’s the mother of the child, though the Mother Superior says Agnes has no memory of the conception or pregnancy. A court-appointed psychiatrist investigates, trying to determine if the nun is mentally capable of standing trial. Uncovering how psychologically troubled Agnes is, the psychiatrist proceeds in building a case for homicide, while the Mother Superior defends her innocence as a girl manifesting a miracle of God, the most convincing result of which are her stigmata. The clash between the two demands that you, the viewer, resolve the conflict, because the movie never confirms guilt or innocence. Your judgment of whether Agnes is touched by God or by madness solves the mystery and at the same time reveals your sense of values, faith or reason.

For me, it’s reason, which turned out to be an important finding for my future spiritual quest. I began to know then that matters of God must make rational sense to me before I can have faith. Faith for me is determined first by the mind, then the heart. If you question your own subterranean bias, watch this movie and I guarantee your natural response to it will provide the answer.

All Is Lost (2013) and Life of Pi (2012)

I was so affected by All Is Lost, I published a blog shortly after I’d seen it, “All Is Not Lost.” I’d been interested initially because Robert Redford was the star—and furthermore the only on-screen character—and I am a fan. But it unfolded to be vastly more than just a Redford vehicle, and, for the sake of the viewers surrounding me in the theater, I had to stifle the sobs that welled up in my chest because of the final scene, a compelling moment which some viewers would see as proof of God’s salvation.

I was astonished by my own reaction, for I’d not realized how powerfully my God-seeking journey had taken hold until I was faced with deciding the movie’s meaning. A secularist would experience the story as an adventure tale of a man lost at sea, all events and circumstances taken literally at the level of reality only; a spiritualist, which my surprise reaction determined me to be, would take it metaphorically as a soul’s journey, the movie’s rich setting full of symbology and hints at a religious thrust.

The other movie, Life of Pi, presents the same form of interpretive choice. At the end of Pi’s story, however, the selection the viewer has to make as to meaning is made explicit. In contrast to Our Man (Redford) in All Is Lost, where a religious theme coexists implicitly with an overtly secular one, the adult Pi tells two versions of his earlier adventure at sea as a boy, mystical and pragmatic, and then finally asks directly, Which do you believe? The voyage of his soul, sailing in surrender to the vast unknown with his only companion, a God-like Bengal tiger whom Pi loved and feared in equal measure? Or the voyage of his raft? I sobbed all the way home from that film, too, moved beyond words by Pi’s spiritual experience, he a novice seeker so like myself at the time.

Birdman (2014)

This movie posed the toughest revelation, my ability to see. The full title of it is Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance). The subtitle (and veiled by parentheses yet!) should have been a tip-off that the movie was going to be enlightening if I could let it be; for, let’s face it, the only unexpected “virtue” of being ignorant is when you’re not anymore. Yet I couldn’t discern the movie’s real point at first, and I left the theater afterward feeling disappointed by a skimpy black comedy about actors’ pretensions. The movie had had a big promotion budget and therefore lots of pre-release buzz about its Oscar quality. But I felt cheated by the predictable story of a washed-up movie actor’s egomaniacal attempt at career redemption. However, Birdman kept pecking at my thinking, patiently dwindling my ignorance. Finally I got it because I saw this clue: the play-within-the-movie was named “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” Well, what do we talk about?

That play is the platform that has-been Hollywood actor Riggan Thomson uses to get audiences to adore him again as they did back in his glory days of playing movie superhero Birdman. And there the Birdman still is, in fact, dogging Riggan, reminding him of what used to be, driving him to (at worst) insanity, to (at best) insensitive dismissal of all else but scrambling to the top again. Birdman even whisks him away on fantasy flights high above Broadway, metaphors for Riggan’s obsessive lust for celebrity—that famous stand-in for love—again. By the end, and after a dramatic ironic reversal of Riggan’s rotten comeback luck, Birdman’s left squatting in the bathroom (a darkly humorous symbol for how the past can block and constipate a life) and Riggan is surrounded by the ones who had loved him—really loved him—all along, his daughter, his ex-wife, his longtime agent. Recognizing this at last (not ignorant anymore), Riggan takes off in joyful flight on his own. What we talk about when we talk about love, therefore, is up to us, the genuine, accepting love which is offered right before us, or the fickle, superficial, people-pleasing variety.

Now that’s a meaningful flick. But, with Birdman, it’s up to the viewer to know it, to explore beneath the obvious story line about the conceits and self-involvement of the entertainment industry (movies and the “legitimate”—read “Broadway, New York City”—theater). See it (or see it again), and test your depth perception. Because of my life experience, I found my level of sense; you may find another one, filtering even farther below the story’s surface.

That is the glory of the capital-A Arts. Through the extent of understanding of individual recipients, the significance of works of art is determined. Which, in turn, helps to tell us who we are.

The Talking Buzz Lightyear Action Figure

To infinity and beyond! Presenting the sensational “Talking Buzz Lightyear” from Thinkway. This cool action figure will surely be adored by kids and adults, alike, who are endeared with the Toy Story Movie!

The astounding toy stands 12 inches tall (1ft). Additionally, this highly detailed, definitive collector’s deluxe edition Talking Buzz Lightyear is the most accurate replica yet produced and includes lots of fantastic features!

Talking Buzz has 32 points of articulation including in the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, waist, ankles, knees and legs! Embedded on his chest is a red oval button for classic “Buzz Toy” phrases. The blue oval chest button, on the other hand, corresponds to “Space Ranger” Buzz with moving head action! He can even detect if you’re talking loudly. The green oval button activates the Talk Back feature. Buzz responds to your voice in Talk Back Mode.

Pressing the red round chest button sets the flying mode with pop-out wing action and light-up wing tips. The level sensor allows Buzz to know when he is in a horizontal flying position or standing vertically and responds with flying/landing sound effects.

You may also press his arm button for laser light-up and sound effects. Opening or closing his helmet or arm communicator results to his articulation of related phrases and sound effects. He has over 60 sayings in original voice. The Toy Story Talking Buzz Lightyear has a soft rubber waist and glow-in-the-dark green trim. Lastly, along with the package is a Toy Story Collection Certification of Authenticity.

Writing a Novel, Screenwriting, and Bar Scenes From a Movie

Writing a novel, screenwriting, and bar scenes from a movie are entertaining. Writing a novel based on an existing movie screenplay is not the most common approach writers choose to take. It goes against the grain of how it usually works. Many entertaining novels have been adapted for the movies by screenwriters. Sometimes it works and other times people that have read the novel are disappointed with the movie.

I have caught myself saying, “I thought the novel was way better” and other times I think the movie was good or even better than the book it was adapted from. I love screenwriting, producing, and directing movies. It does provide a creative rush to see an idea you had for a movie really happen and not stay the person always talking about making a movie, but never taking action to move forward.

Almost everybody in the entertainment business knows someone that talks about a hot movie idea, but never writes the screenplay. They might write a detailed movie treatment and it goes no further than that. End of story. Nobody likes to see themselves as that person that never goes all in with their idea. The roles were reversed on me lately.

I was out with friends not wanting to think about anything on a deep level or business. Just wanted to relax and enjoy the moment of what was happening as it came. Like a script page out of a bar scene from a movie I get cornered by that one person that always somehow shows up you know is going to talk your ear off about something. In this case it was their hot movie concept they had been pitching for years. There never is a finished script or treatment, only ideas coming at you like machine gun fire. What if this? What if that?

Politeness beats rudeness. I shot straight with her that I could not afford the time and energy to write a spec screenplay and bet on the come she would find the money to produce it in order to pay me later. We have known each other for years, but in a very casual sense. The reversal happened when she reminded me that over the years I have talked about always wanting to write a novel and have not done it. If I told her about my aspiring novelist dreams, I can only imagine how many times I must have said it to family and close friends over the years.

She was right. I had not done it and only talked about it. Writing short fiction was my transition to screenwriting, but I skipped something I have always wanted to do – write a novel. I have finally committed to completing a novel that is based on a screenplay I wrote titled Crazy Love Story that fell out of production. Writing a novel is a different process that has taken getting used to.

The biggest difference for me as a filmmaker is the level of lucid description that is needed to draw in readers and paint a picture in their mind. With movies people see the story being played out visually. Viewers can see what a character and location looks like. In novels the writer needs to be able to describe in only words the world they have created. Writing a novel based on an existing movie screenplay is not the most common approach writers choose to take. At least there is going to be that climax when it is done that I finally stopped talking and finished the job of writing a novel. This is filmmaker and aspiring novelist Sid Kali typing FADE OUT