I watched two movies last Friday.
It was a mighty depressing day. I had trouble sleeping so I was up early, by seven, after only a few hours sleep. It was overcast outside, the clouds hanging low enough to feel them breathing on your neck. I was flipping through the channels when I came across a movie on the Independent Film Channel that was just starting, called The Grey Zone. I had never heard of it. It tells the story of a certain group of Jewish people at Auschwitz, the Sonderkomando, (can't find anything on line to adequately explain them better than I can after seeing this movie), who were forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoriums of the camp. It was a positively gut-wrenching movie, as brutal a depiction of the Holocaust as anything I have ever seen, read or heard. Throughout I kept telling myself that I was going to be massively depressed if I kept watching to the finish but I couldn't turn it off. I felt obligated to watch the whole thing.
It's a powerful movie, but it is extremely difficult to watch. And it did its job, adding to an already miserable day. Man, was I down by noon Friday. I got testy with a telemarketer who had the unfortunate fate of calling here in the early afternoon. I usually do not answer calls that I don't recognize, but I was in the mood to make someone else miserable. I also fell off a chair onto a hardwood floor reaching for something by my desk, one of those moments when it seems like you are moving in slow motion, long enough for you to think "I'm going to hit the floor hard, and it's going to really hurt." I landed on my hip. Good thing I am not forty years older.
In the late afternoon, I watched A Prairie Home Companion. I enjoyed it, but it's not exactly a pick-me-up film either. There's a ton of references to death, both literal and figurative. It's a movie that reminds you constantly that you are going to die someday.
The movie was directed by Robert Altman, whose "someday" came yesterday at the ripe old age of 81 (insert trumpets ofirony here). There's a profound line in the middle of the movie: "The death of an old man is not a tragedy." That's correct. I don't think I have ever heard of the death of someone in their eighties and thought "what a tragedy." Rather I tend to think how fortunate that person was, to have lived that long and experience so much. It's staggering to think about all the things that have happened in this world since 1925.
But then I remember the scenes in the first movie showing the bodies of children being tossed into mass graves, and I am reminded that there are no guarantees that any of us will live as long as Robert Altman. Who knows, I might not even live another 81 more minutes.
(I have to go to the dentist tomorrow. I will not miss that when I am dead.)
I'm starting to ramble. I probably should have not watched another movie today, but I am taking a film class this semester and have to write a final paper on a film of my choice. I wanted to select a film that I really like, and after making a list of about ten possibilities I decided on Unforgiven. Again, not exactly a pick-me-up but it's such a beautifully shot film. I love the underlying theme of redemption in the movie. It has a lot of great scenes, and the best is towards the end. Will Munny (Clint Eastwood) and the Scholfied kid are in a field, the kid sitting against a tree, falling apart because he just killed someone for the first time. He starts talking about how unbelievable it is, that the man he killed isn't ever going to breathe again, and then takes a big swig from a bottle of whiskey, holding back tears. The camera cuts to Eastwood, we see the gray sky behind him and hear the wind. It's quiet for a moment. What follows is my all-time favorite dialogue in movie history:
Will Munny: It's a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have.
The Schofield Kid: Yeah, well, I guess he had it coming.
Will Munny: We all got it coming, kid.
Indeed, we do.