Making the Poor Visible

“Obamacare replacement hits Trump voters hard. Some of the biggest losers in Republican plan are in counties that supported him”

Headline in the Los Angeles Times, Sunday, March 12, 2017.

In the late 1990’s someone published a business motivational book called, “Who Stole My Cheese?” It remained on the NY Times best-seller list for almost five years.

My take away was that the difference between rats and people is this. There are five tunnels; only one of them has cheese. Both rats and people will, soon, after discovering the tunnel with cheese, return to it repeatedly. However, if the cheese is moved from, say tunnel two to tunnel five, the rats will return to tunnel two a few times until they realize there is no longer any cheese down that tunnel. Then, the rats will begin to explore the other four tunnels until they find cheese. Human beings, on the other hand will go down tunnel two until they starve because it is the right tunnel.

I was reminded of this business fable several times as I read the NY Times best-seller, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture and Crisis by J. D. Vance. The book, which many critics have hailed as a key to understanding the “Trump voter,” follows Vance’s life through a harrowing boyhood and adolescence amongst his hillbilly relatives to his enlistment in the United States Marine Corps to his undergraduate studies at the University of Ohio until, finally, his graduation from the Yale University School of Law. His story is more than a little bit Dickensian.

The book is well-written, reportorial and compelling. It more than likely fulfills the criteria of Joseph Campbell’s “hero’s journey.” I recommend it highly; like James Baldwin’s books it, too, is a guide for pilgrims who are willing to make the journey to an unfamiliar world. I underlined so many passages that it might be easier to pick out the passages that weren’t underlined.

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Confessions of an Unrepentant Out-of-the-Closet Chick Flick Lover

In the February 3, 2017 issue of the New York Times, the estimable Gloria Steinem published an Op-Ed piece called “Women Have Chic Flics; What About Men?”

I say estimable because I have long admired Ms. Steinem. I first became aware of her, not from her article about being an under-cover Playboy bunny, and my respect for her predates the publication of MS Magazine’s inaugural issue. It was her 1968 interview with Pat Nixon.

In 1968, newly transplanted from Denver Colorado to New York City, I became (and still am) a regular reader of New York magazine. Shortly before that year’s presidential election, the magazine published Ms. Steinem’s interview with the notoriously press-wary, Mrs. Nixon. After Mrs. Nixon responded to one of Steinem’s questions by saying that the woman she admired most was former first lady, Mamie Eisenhower, Steinem reports:

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Learning to See As Another Sees

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.

 

“But there is another sense in which seeing comes before words. It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it. The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled.”

 

–John Berger, Ways of Seeing

When I am asked what it is exactly that I teach, I say that I teach people to see. I use archetypes, myth, metaphor, and mostly film, to teach people how to see symbolically and impersonally.

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Best 2016 Movies Part 2: Round-up

Hidden Figures & Fences

hiddenfiguresThe year brought a jackpot of outstanding films about people of color. In addition to Midnight, Loving and Queen of Katwe, there are Hidden Figures and Fences.

Don’t miss Hidden Figures! It is an old-fashioned (in the best sense) movie that will have you on your feet and cheering at the end. Writer/director Theodore Melfi (St. Vincent) uses a tried and true formula, one that the film’s distributor 20th Century Fox has used countless times since the 1930s: take three ambitious and talented women and intercut their stories as they pursue success in a particularly macho man’s world—NASA in the 1960’s. All three women are working mothers, two of them are married; one is a widow. In their fight for opportunities commensurate with their abilities, the three heroines don’t just have to battle sexism, but racism as well. The performances of the three leading women, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and singer/musician Janelle Monae (also in Moonlight) are righteous, infectious and altogether jubilant. They are reluctantly supported by gum-chewing NASA program director, Kevin Costner. Kirsten Dunst and Jim Parsons are terrific as the heroines’ condescending antagonists and Mahershala Ali (also in Moonlight) is fine (as in “He’s So Fine”) as the persistent suitor of reluctant widow, Henson.

More about Hidden Figures

Fences

fencesAugust Wilson (1945-2005) belongs in the pantheon of great American playwrights. His ten-play Pittsburgh Cycle—each one set in a different decade of the 20th Century—is a monumental artistic accomplishment. Fences, set in the 1950’s, was awarded a Tony and the Pulitzer Prize in 1987.  The dialogue Wilson gives his characters is incomparably musical. In his plays, soliloquies become arias. I saw James Earl Jones play the central character, Troy Maxson in the original 1987 production and it was one of the best theatrical experiences of my life. In Jones’ performance, Troy was a great tragic hero—someone who in other circumstances would have been a king.

Transferring Wilson’s work, which is overtly theatrical, to the screen has to be a Herculean task and the film version doesn’t entirely succeed. Denzel Washington, who directed the film and plays Troy Maxson is one of my favorite actors, someone I’ll pay to see in almost anything he does; however, whether fair or not, Washington can’t replace Jones in my memory.  Troy’s lengthy speeches, many shot in close-up, have a haranguing quality that ultimately alienated me from Washington’s performance. (I know this is a minority opinion.) I still recommend seeing Fences. The supporting cast, particularly Viola Davis as Troy’s wife, Stephen McKinley Henderson as Troy’s best friend, and Mykelti Williamson (heartbreaking as Troy’s brain-damaged brother Gabriel) beautifully capture the rhythms and melodies of Wilson’s writing.

Denzel Washington has announced that he will bring the entire cycle of August Wilson’s plays to HBO. This is great news.

More about Fences


Hail Caesar, Love and Friendship & A Man Called Ove

Hail Caesar

hailceaserThere were three comedies this year that made me laugh out loud repeatedly. Hail Caesar, the latest lunacy from the Coen brothers, is a loving send-up of old Hollywood. It features an all-star cast, each at the top of their game, including George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson, Ralph Fiennes, Channing Tatum (never better), Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Jonah Hill, newcomer Alden Ehrenreich, as a cowboy star (who steals the film from under their noses.) Josh Brolin grounds the film with a virtuoso dead pan portrayal of a tortured Catholic studio head, charged riding herd over the dim-witted shining stars in his care. Brolin may be the most under-rated actor working in films today.

More about Hail Caesar
 Love & Friendship

loveandfriendshipLove and Friendship is director Whit Stillman’s sophisticated and wry adaptation of a Jane Austen novella, Lady Susan. It features a tour de force performance by Kate Beckinsale as the shameless seductress Lady Susan and she is ably supported by Tom Bennett as her idiot suitor. These performances will probably be overlooked at award time; they are, nonetheless, pure gold.

More about Love & Friendship

 

A Man Called Ove

mancalledoveA Man Called Ove, based on an international best-selling novel, is a sweet Swedish comedy about a bereft widower whose attempts at suicide are repeatedly interrupted by needy neighbors. In the title role, Rolf Lassgard is sublime.

More about  A Man Called Ove

 

 

 

 


La La Land & Sing Street

2016 produced two charming and equally original musicals, La La Land and Sing Street. The former got the lion’s share of attention from the critics and at the box office but don’t overlook the latter.

La La Land

lalalandWhen I was a child, I particularly loved the MGM musicals; the gaudy Technicolor palette was almost the same as my grandmother’s plaster-of Paris saints statues and flamboyant holy cards. I imagined that heaven would look a lot like those musicals. (I came as close as a five-year-old can to experiencing spiritual rapture when I saw Gene Kelly dance with Jerry the Mouse in Anchors Aweigh.) This, I thought, must be what heaven is like.  La La Land, captures the spirit of the MGM musicals, but with a sadder-but-wiser point of view. Leading man, Ryan Gosling, is perfect, everything one could expect; Emma Stone is a fine actress who repeatedly defies expectations, until the scene when the film director asks her to tell a story. In this scene Emma Stone doesn’t just defy expectations, she obliterates them.  More about La La Land

Sing Street

singstreetSing Street, is the work of John Carney the Irish writer/director of the cult hit, Once, which was equally successful when translated into a Tony award winning Broadway musical. Sing Street’s slight plot is about a teenage boy who starts a rock band to impress a girl. Like a lot of musicals, the plot isn’t all that important but the music and performances, by a great ensemble cast led by Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, in his first movie, are completely beguiling. Just looking at the above photograph makes me want to see it again. More about Sing Street


Lion, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, & Captain Fantastic

Three exceptional family films were released this year— five if you count The Queen of Katwe and Sing Street—and I heartily recommend that you do.

When I say family film, I don’t mean baby-sitting films, I mean films that are equally entertaining and engrossing for adults and children; films that have meat on their bones and are have stories that can inspire rich conversations after they are viewed.

All five films feature children protagonists; the child actors who play them give marvelous performances.

lionLion
Lion tells the true story of Saroo, a five year Indian boy who falls asleep on a train and ends up lost in the streets of Calcutta, thousands of kilometers from his tiny village. He is adopted and raised by an Australian couple (Nicole Kidman is wonderful as the mother). 25 years later, he sets off, with the help of Google maps to find his Indian family. Sunny Pawar plays the boy Saroo. Dev Patel plays him as an adult. (The first half hour is subtitled.) More about Lion

 

Hunt for the Wilderpeople

huntforthe-wilderpeopleHunt for the Wilderpeople is a New Zealand film about a wily young delinquent from the city (Julian Denison) who is sent to live with foster parents on the edge of the bushlands. Fearing he’ll be sent back to an orphanage when his foster mother unexpectedly dies, he takes off into the bush. His reluctant foster father (Sam Neill) goes in search of the boy and is mistakenly thought to have kidnapped him. (The New Zealand dialect takes getting used to but it’s worth it.) The comic pairing of Denison and Neill is both sidesplittingly funny and deeply moving. More about Hunt for the Wilderpeople

 

Captain Fantastic

captainfantasticViggo Mortensen is brilliant as the eccentric hippie father who takes his children to live off the grid in Captain Fantastic. George MacKay, is touchingly awkward and naïve as the scholarly eldest son who has been in the wilderness so long he has no idea how to talk to girls. There is one full-frontal nude shot of Mortensen—fully justified by the story—that will be off-putting to some parents. The kids will love it. More about Captain Fantastic

 

 


Doctor Strange

drstrangeI’m not generally drawn to Marvel Comics super-hero movies; the exception is Dr. Strange, which is a thoroughly entertaining adventure that demands that the ultra-rational, egocentric, arrogantly self-sufficient title character surrender to the mystical and the miraculous. Benedict Cumberbatch is perfect in the title role and he receives excellent support from a first rate cast that includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel Mc Adams, Benedict Wong and Tilda Swinton.

More about Doctor Strange

 


The Divas

2016 was a great year for actresses “of a certain age.” God bless the baby-boomers who have become a reliable demographic for medium to low-budget (think Sundance Film Festival) treats like:

Florence Foster Jenkins

Florence Foster Jenkins, featuring the insanely talented Meryl Streep, as an insanely untalented would be opera singer. She’s supported by Simon Helberg (Big Bang Theory), sensational as her accompanist, and Hugh Grant, better than he’s been in a long time, as her husband. More about Florence Foster Jenkins

Hello My Name is Doris

Sally Field and Tyne Daly “My Name is Doris”

Sally Field and Tyne Daly “My Name is Doris”

In Hello My Name is Doris two-time Oscar winner, Sally Field dispensed with earnest and cute, and graduated to wonderfully eccentric, ably supported by national treasure, Tyne Daly. (I’d love to see Fields play Veta Louise Simmons in a revival of Mary Chase’s Pulitzer Prize winning play, Harvey.)

More about Hello My Name is Doris

 

The Meddler

Susan Sarandon showed up in a wonderful dramedy, The Meddler, about a recent widow who relocates from New York to the West Coast to drive her TV-producer daughter (Rose Byrne) out of her mind. More about The Meddler

20th Century Women

Annette Bening is stunning as a single mother raising a precocious teen-ager (Lucas Jade Zumann) in 20th Century Women. The supporting cast includes a hilariously earnest Greta Gerwig, a scary Elle Fanning and Billy Crudup, in his best performance since I don’t remember when. More about 20th Century Women

The Hollars

thehollarsBest of all is Margo Martindale in The Hollars. I fell in love with Margo Martindale when I saw her play Big Mama opposite Ned Beatty as Big Daddy in an otherwise lamentable revival of Tennessee Williams Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. (Ashley Judd played Maggie the Cat; it was painful.) Martindale won an Emmy for her performance as Mags Bennett, a matriarchal hillbilly drug-dealer in the FX series Justified. She returned to FX as an undercover KGB operative in The Americans, Whether or not you’ve seen Margo Martindale in anything else, see her in The Hollars! Her performance will warm and break your heart.

More about The Hollars

Altogether a good year for movies!

Nostalgia Really Isn’t What it Used To Be

My cousin, Michael, and I don’t have occasion to interact very often—weddings and funerals, mostly.  I saw him last summer for the first time in several years at a mini family reunion that my sister hosted in honor of my 75th birthday and in honor of Michael’s older brother, Pat, an Oblate missionary priest in Africa, who was home on vacation.

Michael is a really good man. He and sister, Jane, have been, and continue to be, pillars of strength for their immediate and extended families throughout many heartbreaks, losses and tragedies that would have broken people of frailer character.

Michael and I are casual FB friends. His FB posts mostly tend toward nostalgic pictures from websites like the Good Old Days and Do You Remember the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s? My sister Mary posts pictures from these websites, too. They are occasionally funny, but in no way give me any desire to re-live those decades. Or the 50’s either!

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Artists, Saints and Prophets

hamiltonmusical

In the days immediately following Mike Pence’s attendance at the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” a friend of mine posted an article about the elegance of actor Brandon Victor Dixon’s address to the vice-president elect.

One of her friends replied that the address was inappropriate, rude and disrespectful. Another decried the lack of hospitality toward Pence: “people pay money to attend the theatre to relax and be entertained. They don’t go there to be made to feel uncomfortable.” I have a Master’s Degree in Theatre Arts and no instructor I ever had said anything remotely like that.

I replied to her post: “In the play “Inherit the Wind” a character based on legendary journalist, H. L. Mencken says, ‘It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’. This is also the duty of art and artists and saints and martyrs. Early in the week the same friend who posted the article about Hamilton had posted a photo of a birthday card which featured a quote from Pope Francis, “Have courage! Go Forward! Make noise!” I referred to the card in my post, adding “that it seemed to me that this is exactly what the cast of Hamilton did.”

Comfortable art! Even “The Sound of Music” reaches its climax with Captain Von Trapp singing “Edelweiss,” and thereby risking his life to sing truth to power.

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Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

Jimmy Stewart in the 1939 film Mr. Smith Goes To Washington

JEFFERSON SMITH – “Why don’t you people the truth for a change? People in this country pick up their papers and what do they read?

DIZ MOORE (a reporter) – “Well, this morning they read that an incompetent clown had arrived in Washington parading around like a member of the senate.”

JEFFERSON SMITH – “If you thought as much about being honest as you thought about being smart—“

DIZ MOORE – “Honest! We’re the only ones who can afford to be honest in what we tell the voters. We don’t have to be re-elected like politicians.”

I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old the first time my parents took me to see Frank Capra’s great film, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

The film was originally released in 1939, two years before I was born. We didn’t yet have television, let alone VHS, DVRs or Turner Classic Movies, but each year The Rocky Mountain News in collaboration with the Vogue, a small theatre in South Denver, sponsored a sort of film festival. The newspaper published ballots and readers could vote for the films they most wanted to see: the Marx Brothers, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, W. C. Fields (with Mae West) and Frank Capra’s movies (Mr. Smith, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town and You Can’t Take it with You) always received enough votes to be screened. And my parents took me to see them.

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Archetypal America

In honor of the release of  the Archetypal America workshop recordings, I offer this post on one of my favorite films, Stagecoach. The course recordings can be purchased as a digital download here: https://gum.co/archetypalamerica

“The main American theme, I think, is freedom. It’s about individual freedom in opposition to or in tension with collective freedom.”  -Ken Burns, documentary film maker, “The Civil War”

Throughout American history the archetypes which populate our myths and legends and capture our imagination are the Rebel, the Revolutionary, the Liberator, the Scout, the Pioneer, the Cowboy, the Explorer, even the Outlaw: all of them perpetually moving forward in pursuit of their idea of freedom, both on behalf of the common good and at the expense of it. While many of these archetypes appear from the very beginnings of our history, the conflict between the various notions of freedom—personal and collective—solidified in the American psyche in the years leading up to and following the Civil War. They continue to impact us and our ideas of ourselves to this day. Few films capture these American themes and tensions as well as John Ford’s masterpiece, Stagecoach.

stage2

Stagecoach is high on my list of the 10 Best Movies of All Time. I’ve seen it at least 20 times, probably more. Without fail, something about it captures and holds with every viewing, so much so I save it on my DVR, along with Singin’ in the Rain and a few other films, so I can view them again whenever the mood strikes me.

Stagecoach_movieposterStagecoach was released in 1939 which many film historians consider to be a landmark year in American filmmaking. Stagecoach was nominated for a Best Picture Oscar along with Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and Ninotchka. Stagecoach’s director, John Ford, was nominated that year, as was character actor, Thomas Mitchell, who won for his portrayal of alcoholic Doc Boone. Mitchell also appeared that year as Scarlett O’Hara’s father in GWTW and as a cynical reporter in Mr. Smith.

I don’t ever need to see Gone with the Wind again. It never really appealed to me and now I find it overblown, patronizing and embarrassing. Sue me.

I know The Wizard of Oz by heart and I’ve used it several times to teach basic archetypes but I don’t need ever to see it again. Ninotchka has what is arguably Greta Garbo’s best performance and director Ernst Lubitsch’s best film and it’s fun to watch late at night  if I can’t fall asleep. (In an odd way, Lubitsch is a really—I mean really—sophisticated version of Mel Brooks. Both use comedy to mock Nazi-ism and Fascism and all totalitarian forms of government. (Wouldn’t Harvey Korman be a fabulous Donald Trump?)  Mr. Smith Goes to Washington has the performance that James Stewart should have won the Oscar for but didn’t. He won the following year for the wonderful The Philadelphia Story, which as good as his performance is doesn’t quite match his work in Mr. Smith, Harvey (another of my top 10) and Anatomy of a Murder—a must watch if you’ve never seen it.

Enough about these other memorable films, back to Stagecoach! (Sometimes like my friend and mentor, Caroline Myss, I wish I could share all of the movies I love with all of the people I love.)

In my opinion “Stagecoach” (1939) “Holiday” (1938) and “You Can’t Take It with You” (also 1938) capture the American myth and the constellation of American archetypes more fully than any films that have followed. Shot as the depression was coming to a close and just before we entered into World War II, these three films form a template for the American myth that has never changed.

All of them deal with inequalities of class and income and their influence on political leanings but Stagecoach does something the other films don’t. It places vengeance ahead of love—and this has been a theme of American movies ever since (“Some things a man just can’t run away from.”) This value or moral code of the obsessed loner, continues today in the popular Batman movies, no more so than in The Dark Knight Rises—the masterpiece second installment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

I happened to catch an NPR interview with Glen Weldon, author of The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of the Nerd Culture in which he said
“Batman as he is now perceived—the grim, grave Christian Bale version– he is the personification of masculinity as it would be envisioned by a twelve year old kid who got his lunch money stolen a lot. He’s unbeatable in a fight; he is jacked, laconic, and gruff—and that’s who this character is to them. “Batman must be the dark hero—the things we don’t want to admit—the rage we feel when we get cut off in traffic; the isolation and loneliness.

“In 1970, they decided that they would turn him into an obsessed loner. He has to become obsessed, and I would argue that at the same time the comic book industry was abandoning kids and going after the obsessed nerds, people who collected comics. Nerds like me can look at a character like Batman who . . .  is not great with people and who keeps to himself and is obsessed with something, and see a vision of us. That’s the connection that we feel.”

I listened to this interview I realized that somehow Batman had his roots in the John Wayne characters in “Stagecoach,” “The Searchers,” and “True Grit.” It also describes Shane, all of The Magnificent Seven, Dirty Harry, and Michael Corleone, right up to Leonardo Di Caprio in The Revenant.

Stagecoach also speaks to the present moment in the characters of the crooked banker (the 1%), his punishing wife (the religious right) and in the sacred American belief that sometimes you have to take the law in your hands. The Marshall turns the other way and, in fact, condones, John Wayne’s hunting down and executing the Plummer brothers in much the same way that Gotham, Police Commissioner, James Gordon, turns a blind-eye to Batman’s quest for vengeance.

Another part of the vision in this, as in all of John Ford’s best films is that the people on the margins—the prostitute, the alcoholic doctor, and the whiskey salesman—have infinitely more compassion than the self-righteous banker and his wife. This theme permeates our sense of ourselves as Americans and is a major issue in this year’s presidential campaign.

To me, Stagecoach, like all great works of art, is timeless. It doesn’t date. Somehow it manages, like all great art does, to mirror us and challenge our better selves to respond to this moment in history in much the same way that this film does.

The course recordings can be purchased as a digital download here: https://gum.co/archetypalamerica

Guest Appearance: Archetypal Tarot Podcast

2015_ATP_Icon_Green_Twitter_ProfileI was thrilled to sit down with my good friend Julienne Givot and discuss archetypes, movies and more for her popular show, The Archetypal Tarot Podcast.  You can download the show for free on iTunes or listen online at the bottom of this page:

http://archetypaltarot.podbean.com/e/the-tower-embracing-the-grace-of-change/

A Conversation with Jim Curtan

This conversation is between Shane M. Nygaard and Jim Curtan on September 14, 2015, as part of the Minnesota Jung Association’s 2015-2016 season of event.

More information on Jim’s Workshop – Archetypal America October 23rd and 24th, 2015 in St. Paul, MN

SN:      Since you haven’t been in front of the Minnesota Jung Association (MJA) audience before, to help people get to know you a little before your visit, can you share a bit about your background?

JC:       Absolutely.  Well, I have eight years of a Jesuit education, which I love, because the Jesuits taught me how to think, and they gave up the power to tell me what to think.  I have been grateful to them for that forever.  I went to graduate school in theatre at the University of Connecticut; I taught theatre, or drama, for three years at Loretto Heights,  a no-longer-existing Catholic women’s college in Denver, Colorado.  Then I moved to New York.  I lived five years in New York. I did some stage managing, and I directed a lot of summer stock.  Then, I got a job as a stage manager with a show that went to Washington DC and then came out to Los Angeles, California.  And I stayed.  I did a couple more stage managing gigs, and then a friend of mine told me that a friend of hers (who was a talent manager) who needed some temporary help to answer phones and feed the dogs while he was on a promotional tour with a young actor.    The third day the guy was out, he said, “Are you available when I get back?  I maybe could use some help.”  The young actor he went out to do a promo with was John Travolta.  Travolta had just started Welcome Back Kotter.  Bob, the man who I was working for, said I think I have a teenage idol on my hands.  They were in Chicago in a blizzard (and this is probably hyperbole), the buses weren’t running, the schools were closed, and still the lobby of the hotel was filled with screaming teenage girls.  He said, “I want to talk to you when I get back.”  I said, “What do you want me to do?”  Bob was from Texas and very eccentric, and a real teacher for me, a real mentor.  He drawled, “I have become so good at what only I can do; I need to be free to do what only I can do.  I will need you to do the rest.  A lot of it might be shit, but if we figure out what it is that only you can do, and I think it is valuable, we will hire another person.”  A year-and-a-half later I had an office at Paramount Pictures, I was being paid by Paramount for Bob’s company to read material for John and our other clients.  John was making Saturday Night Fever.  I found Urban Cowboy through a magazine article.  Working in script development is where I first got interested in Archetypes because, when you are trying to find the appropriate material for an actor, even if you don’t know the word “Archetype,” you know what’s right for them, what fits them.  And it was archetypal.

SN:      Back then, had you heard of Archetypes?  Did you know back then what you were doing?

KevinCostner_BodyguardJC:       No.  We didn’t call them Archetypes, we said our clients have specific essences.  I didn’t represent these guys, but it’s an easy way to point it out – in the prime of his career, Kevin Costner always played a Knight; he never played a King.  If it was an Indian chief, he was working for the chief, but he wasn’t the chief.  So, that’s how I learned it.  I managed that company and we worked with, besides John, Patrick Swayze, and a few other people – I was with them as their careers developed.  Then, I left and went to work later for another company where I worked with John Malkovich and Willem Dafoe and Andy Garcia and Melanie Griffith.  Totally different kinds of actors, but I saw this at work all the time.

SN:      When you started working with these new actors after your first experience, did you build on what you had done with John Travolta?

JC:       Absolutely, absolutely.  What was interesting, of all of them, Melanie Griffith really knew what worked for her.  She had a really good sense of her archetypal self – the best of any actor I’ve ever worked with.  She was in a really risky movie called Body Double, where she played a porn star.  She said, “I can say these words and the audience will like me.”  It got great reviews, it really started her career, because she knew that.  Now, Malkovich, it had to do in part with what he shouldn’t do so he wouldn’t get typed as a creepy villain, so the movies he did, one was Places in the Heart, which was very sympathetic, and then he did The Killing Fields.  So when he played a villain in a Clint Eastwood movie, the audience already knew he was something besides a psychopath, because that’s what Clint Eastwood villains usually are.  It was knowing what their qualities were and helping them.  It wasn’t that they couldn’t play other roles, but you knew those roles wouldn’t advance their career.

SN:      Would you say you had a natural instinct for that, or was it something that developed in you, or both?

JC:       No, I knew it right off.  I’ll tell you when I knew it and I didn’t have the words for it.  John Travolta had had three huge hits, Saturday Night Fever, Grease, and Urban Cowboy.  He had one stinker in the middle called Moment by Moment that he made with Lily Tomlin.  But then, he wanted to do a movie with [director] Brian De Palma because he had worked with Brian in Carrie.  Brian wanted John to do this movie called Blow Out.  I read the movie, and I didn’t know about Archetypes, but I said, “He can’t do this movie.”  My bosses said, “Why not?”  I said, “Because, in Saturday Night Fever and Grease, and in Urban Cowboy, John plays a male chauvinist who learns to treat women with respect.  That’s why women love him.  It’s not just the dancing.  It’s that women feel respected and seen by him.  He can be gracious and tender and vulnerable and not just a jerk.  In this script, he plays a sound technician who meets this girl in a mystery and she gets killed and he is recording it and he puts it in the movie as a sound effect.  That will offend his audience.”  The movie didn’t do well.

SN:      So he ended up doing the movie?

JC:       Oh yeah.  He wanted to do it because he loved the director.  He wanted to look tough because he had been playing boy-men [characters].

SN:      When you told everybody that it wouldn’t be a good movie, how did they respond to that?

JC:       I didn’t talk with John directly, but I talked with my bosses, and they said you have to stop lobbying for this. He wants to do it, and we’ve done everything we can and if we push him too hard, he’s a big star, and we don’t want him going off in a huff.  He went on to make a lot of mostly forgettable movies. Then, Quentin Tarantino put him in Pulp Fiction.  In that movie a brilliant thing happened.  Uma Thurman was being treated like some piece of meat and he dances with her like she’s a lady – he treats her like a lady.  That is exactly what made women love John in the first place, and all of a sudden, he was back.  I didn’t know what Archetypes were, but I just knew that he should not betray a woman.

SN:      You could see the patterns but you just didn’t have a specific name for a particular pattern.

JC:       I hadn’t heard of Carl Jung or Archetypes at that point.  It was a few years later that I started finding out about them.

SN:      How did you start learning about Jung and Archetypes?  And, how did you begin to transition into that world?

moore_gillette_kwmlJC:       I was still in show business, but a friend of mine gave me two books to read.  One was called King, Warrior, Magician, Lover [by Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette], which is about core masculine Archetypes, and Robert Bly’s Little Book on the Human Shadow.  It really made sense to me.  Sometime later, I went to one of Caroline Myss’s classes, not because of Archetypes, but because I had been diagnosed with cancer.  From what I read about her, I thought she was a healer, and I thought this would be good.  I’ll go get healed, I’ll go get cured, and then, I’ll go back to my life.  Ha, ha, ha.  She made it clear she wasn’t a healer.  But, the first day I studied with her (it was a six-day seminar), it was as if I had always known this, and now I had a vocabulary for it.  So, when other people were asking about their Archetypes, and their lives and all of their drama, I kept wanting to know about her model – her model of Archetypes.  This was great because she was still writing the book.

SN:      So, the whole model she had for Sacred Contracts, it wasn’t developed at that time, it was just in progress?

JC:       It was pretty fully developed.  I watched her develop it over two six-day classes, and we had become friends by then.  When she started her Institute, actually before that, she invited me to teach with her.  So, I was immersed in it.  It was as if, as soon as she started talking about this, it was my native tongue.  Symbols – I love symbols.  I’m more comfortable with symbolic language than literal.  Literal people I have trouble – I’m not kidding – I have trouble understanding what they are talking about sometimes.

SN:      What draws you personally to Archetypes?  What is the appeal of speaking archetypally?

JC:       It is very similar to speaking in metaphor.  Because symbols can express things that literal, rational language cannot.  People that are “rational” (there must be a reason for everything or think it’s all logical) – there’s a place that reason and logic cannot go.  It’s not irrational and it’s not pre-rational, it’s what Ken Wilbur calls trans-rational– it goes to places where symbols reach us on a deeper level than reason.  There is a marvelous moment in Hamlet where Hamlet tells his friend Horatio about the ghost of his father.  They are both philosophy students—rationalists. Horatio doesn’t believe in ghosts.  Hamlet says, “There is more in Heaven and Earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” which I used to think was his view of the world, but now it means in what you are studying – there is more than that –and whether the ghost was literal or was a symbol of Hamlet’s feeling doesn’t matter.  He was getting information intuitively, through whatever that was.  The same with metaphors – metaphors and symbols are the language of mystics.  I think that’s why Jung is so drawn to it.  And with his drawings and things like this, these are not A+B=C.  A lot of what Jung writes about, are in a sense, revelations, downloads, or “aha” moments.  You can reason from these insights, but you can’t reason your way to them, step-by-step-by-step.  They don’t work that way.

SN:      So, for people who might not be ‘mystically’ inclined, or if they don’t resonate with something like ‘mysticism,’ would you say it’s also a language of imagination?

JC:       Yes, it’s the language of poetry.  Poets use symbols; they speak archetypal language; they use metaphors.  Anybody can say, “I love you” but when you say “shall I compare thee to a summer’s day,” you’re entering another realm.

SN:      Multi-layers and infinite possibilities.

JC:       What’s in a name?  When Romeo sees Juliet and their tribal identities—Montague and Capulet—dissolve. (their tribal identities as a Montague and a Capulet  They see a world where “it is the East and Juliet is the Sun – and this is in a sense, mystical.  It’s not mystical like religious mystical, but in South Pacific, there is a great song called Some Enchanted Evening.  What happens is that, in that evening, the lovers are transported into another reality that they later  have to integrate in the cold light of day, because what they experienced in that heightened moment, changed them.  Then it was about, did they have the guts to go with what they now know that they didn’t know.  There is a lyric that says, “Fools give you reasons, wise men never try.”

SN:      Great example.  And to change the topic, for reasons other than just changing it, let’s talk about “Archetypal America.”  For your lecture and workshop, in the description you start off with the quote from Ken Burns’ The Civil War: “The main American theme, I think, is freedom.  It’s about individual freedom in opposition to, or intention with collective freedom.”  Can you talk a little bit about that?

JC:       This has been part of our culture from the beginning, and we can see that being played out right now in politics.  You can see the collective, like you can see somebody like Bernie Sanders saying, this is what’s good for everyone.  And, somebody else saying, this is what’s good for me.  For example, I have a right to a gun, or my children have the right to go to school safely.  All children have a right.  It’s about the struggle between my individual freedom and rights and the good of the culture, the good of the community – not the tribe so much, but of the community.  People who have come together.

SN:      Which connects very well with Jung and his process of individuation.

JC:       Yes.  And, there is a point where, see there’s individuation, and then there is reintegration, because you have to individuate – that’s the Hero’s Journey to me.  But for the Hero’s Journey to really be complete, you have to return and integrate your authentic discovered self, your unique singular person.  It’s important to integrate it with the whole.  Who does the Grail serve?  How and what does your integrated-self  serve?  After you’ve done this heroic journey, the ego thinks it’s just for you, but the lesson you learn is that it isn’t.  And, if you never learn that it isn’t just for you, well, you’ll be an adolescent forever.

SN:      So, if we take this process and map it on to America archetypally, would you say perhaps each State works toward its own individuation, yet remains part of the United States, the collective?

JC:       I don’t know that I would put it that way.  Because I don’t think each state is like that.  I think, rather than individual states, we have many conflicting cultures.  Where it really comes to a head and we still haven’t resolved it is in the Civil War.

SN:      Text books and history classes teach us that the Civil War was long ago and it had a specific finite period.

JC:       The North and South are still at war with each other today.  There are people that are still upset that there is a black president because it’s a reminder that their ancestors lost the war.

SN:      All the recent brouhaha about the Confederate flag…

stagecoach-movie-poster-1939-1010417025JC:       Yes, exactly!  I mean, just think, that’s 160 years ago, and they are still fighting it and they are saying it’s part of our heritage.  Well, it’s part of the heritage of racism and losing, but people hang on to that just as stubbornly.  We see it from the other side too.  There is a marvelous moment in the movie Stagecoach.  The movie was released in 1939, interestingly enough, the same year that Gone with the Wind was released, which really sentimentalizes slavery and the South.  Stagecoach takes place 20 years after the Civil War. The war, has devastated the country, not just with all the people we lost, but it devastated the country as a whole—economically, psychically, spiritually.  It was like a depression.  What you have in Stagecoach is an Archetype in itself.  It’s an Archetype that’s repeated in movie after movie, like the Poseidon Adventure, where a bunch of strangers have to come together in crisis, or on a spaceship, or wherever you have it.  On the Stagecoach, you have a rebel who fought for the South, a doctor who fought for the North, you have a man who keeps saying over and over that he’s from Kansas City, Kansas—not Kansas City, Missouri because Kansas was a free state, and he’s letting people know where he stands.

You also have the West which is Libertarian.  The United States has a very strong Libertarian streak, and it’s particularly strong in the West.  Then you have the banker in the movie who believes that business and corporate America should be running everything.  Does that sound new?

<Laughter>

SN:      The symbolism is just astounding.

JC:       It’s amazing!  And, you also have the nominal outlaw, who is really the good guy, which is a big part of the Western thing (“we can handle our own problems”); the heroine is a prostitute; and the other woman on the stage coach is a pregnant woman married to a Union soldier, but whose father was a Confederate general.  So, you’ve got all of the stresses, strains and tensions of the culture in this one stage coach.  It’s pretty phenomenal – it really is.  Another element, not well-known is that  the Civil War was also fought in the West; there were battles fought in the Arizona Territory where this film takes place.  Lincoln needed to keep the West. If the Confederacy captured California or any of the western territories and it could put an end to the dreams of empire, the great expansion.

SN:      Ah…

JC:       California was battled over a lot, and then, they headed east.  The other piece of the cowboy western we have translated into our space movies. It’s the myth of “the great do-over” – “Okay, we messed this up, let’s head west.”  The French philosopher, Rousseau talked about “natural man.”  The notion of natural man as always glorified, unspoiled by civilization.  John Wayne represents that.  This is the first of a series of films he made with the director John Ford.  Over thirty years they developed John Wayne’s archetypal character, a man trying very hard to stay separate from civilization.  He really can’t bear it because freedom isn’t there, and the culture is corrupt.  When I started to research this, just based on my intuition, my gut instinct, about why I love this movie so much, I found that there are so many books written about this director, and about John Wayne, that the director John Ford really, more than anybody else, created the myth of the Western.  He and another great director, Howard Hawks, used John Wayne over and over to create this American mythos.  Before Stagecoach, there had been some silent westerns, some silent movies, but the westerns were just for kids to go see on Saturdays.  They weren’t taken seriously.  Stagecoach was nominated for best picture, best director; and it didn’t win best director or the Oscar, but it won New York Film Critic Circle for Best Director.  This elevated westerns to a mythic genre for adults.  You can see Clint Eastwood as being a descendant from these – it’s very clear – the Loner.  The completely self-reliant person who may work for the system but is at odds with it.

SN:      So, would you say, if we link in Jung a little bit here, would you say the characters that he plays are individuated?

JC:       Yes, yes, yes.  But there is another piece of it.  They are not entirely civilized or domesticated

SN:      So, is that part of being individuated?

JC:       That’s where that tension is.  The tension is in the individual freedom.  By itself, individuation.  Or, is individuation really when you can be in full relationship with others, as an individuated person rather than as a tribal person.  This is a real strain.  What happens is that the Archetypes I talk about, like the Pioneer and the Scout, they are always in search of freedom – autonomy.  They don’t want their fate determined by a whole rigmarole of laws and hierarchies.  They don’t like hierarchies.

SN:      How does that usually go for them?

JC:       It goes pretty well.  That’s why this is one of the great things about the United States, why people still come here.  They see a possibility to escape class and start over.  That a person can come here, and if they were of a certain class, in a European country then they would always be of that class.  But, it’s not just self-individuation, its self-invention.

SN:      Okay.

JC:       When Rousseau talked about the noble savage, [the noble savage] hadn’t been corrupted by civilization, which figures deeply into this.  But the other piece of it, in the myth of the west, is that what we’re leaving behind us (civilization) is spoiled.  It’s been littered.

The people go west for freedom.  A few brave scouts go out and explore the unknown, the frontier, places that have not been mapped.  If they survive, they come back and tell people about them.  A few brave pioneers hear freedom in this – a chance for a better life, my own plot of ground, whatever it is, and they head into this frontier, and they live pretty much in harmony with nature.  But then, as it gets a little more civilized and they write back to their relatives in Boston or Philadelphia, and say the air is clean and the land is fertile, and we’ve made a few roads, well, then the settlers come, not the pioneers.  And what they bring with them are the banks, the churches, the schools, the courts, and all of these social constraints that the pioneers left civilization to get away from in the first place.  Because they felt constrained; they couldn’t be free and independent. Then these so-called civilizing institutions come in, and instead of people being neighbors, they start competing with each other, by becoming greedy for land they shared before.  When the only person was ten miles away, you became good neighbors.  And, you didn’t have a lot to gossip about.

SN:      What do they say?  Good fences make good neighbors?

JC:       With civilization, comes gossip.  And classes and hierarchy that these people left to get away from so that, in Stagecoach, the prostitute, who is the most virtuous character in this movie, and who comes to prostitution because her parents were killed by Indians and she was left an orphan, and how else is an uneducated woman going to make a living in the wild west?  The self-righteous church ladies judge her, when she is more decent than any of them.

SN:      And, that still continues to this day.

JC:       You bet it does.  So, you see, in Stagcoach, a microcosm for our culture.  But there’s also this yearning to recapture purity and innocence, so that when we have polluted an area enough, we want to move and find a less polluted area.  Or, now, because we have polluted this planet so much, unless we can come together and work like the people on the stagecoach, we don’t have a lot of hope.  There’s another Archetype that I didn’t put in the description, and that’s the Gambler.

SN:      Oh yeah, Kenny Rogers.

JC:       But, it’s also the person who is willing to risk everything for a better life.

SN:      It sounds like there is just going to be so much to cover.  It’s going to be an exciting lecture and workshop!

JC:       Isn’t this fascinating material?

SN:      Oh, it absolutely is.  I could literally talk for hours and hours and hours with you.

JC:       I hope you can listen for hours and hours.

SN:      You know I can.  But for now, if we can wrap up the conversation, I’d like to  do a few general “favorites” questions.  Do you have a favorite myth out of all the myths that you have encountered?

JC:       Do you know what comes to me more than anything else?  I don’t know if this qualifies.  It’s a fairy tale.  It’s Pinocchio.

SN:      My next question was if you had a favorite fairy tale, so that covers the terrain of both.  Why Pinocchio?

JC:       I love “I’ve got no strings.”  I love cutting the strings so you can make your own choices.  Again, it’s about individuation.  It’s about – and what I noticed at least in the Disney version, this is not as true in the original book – most of the lies that Pinocchio tells in the Disney version are people pleasing.  He doesn’t want to get in trouble so he tells them whatever they want to hear.

If I looked at myths, hmm, I love the myth of the Odyssey; I love the myth of Ulysses.  And, particularly, I love the character of Penelope, Ulysses’ wife.

SN:      What’s the draw to her?

JC:       It’s amazing.  Ulysses has been away, he’s been lost for over ten years after the war, and his wife is the queen of Ithaca.  She is the queen and as long as she is unmarried, she has power.  But, all of the men in the region are courting her; they want to marry her because then they become king of Ithaca.  Remember, we think of Greece, but this was barbarian Greece.  This wasn’t the Greece of Aristotle and Plato.  This takes place before that.  These suitors are showing up at the castle; they are eating her out of house and home; and they are insisting that she make a decision.  So, she does this brilliant thing.  During the day when they are there, she is weaving a tapestry and she says, when I complete the tapestry, I will make my decision.  So, when they leave for the night or retire, she goes back into the room where she is making the tapestry, and she unravels parts of it because she doesn’t want to finish it.

SN:      Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.

JC:       I love that story.  We all do this when we don’t want to make a decision.  We keep unraveling.  I love that part.  There are so many characters in the Odyssey that are, like the Sirens.  I love the Sirens.  Sometimes I think that the Sirens though, the song that made them all jump off the ship, was a commercial.  Like “double your pleasure, double your fun…” You know when you get a tune stuck in your head that you don’t want in your head and you can’t get it out?  I think that’s what the Sirens did.

<Laughter>

JC:       I wanted to do the Odyssey as a musical about advertising where Ulysses works on Madison Avenue and the sirens are jingle singers and they are always looking for songs that you can’t get out of your head until you shoot yourself.

SN:      I know you have seen hundreds and hundreds of thousands and thousands of movies, but do you have a favorite movie out of all of them?

JC:       Yes.  I could never teach it.  All it does is give me pure pleasure, and that’s Singing in the Rain.

SN:      Aw, nice!

JC:       It’s been my favorite movie for 50 years.  I have it on my DVR so I can play it any time I want.  If it’s on, I will just watch a couple of numbers from it.  There is something about it that refreshes my soul.

SN:      Great.  How about a favorite musician?

JC:       That’s tough.  It would be between Cole Porter and George Gershwin.

SN:      You can keep two.  Do you have a favorite song?

JC:       I have a lot, but the one that – there are two.  One is Being Alive from Stephen Sondheim’s musical Company; and the other is a Gershwin song called Someone to Watch Over Me.

SN:      Excellent.  How about a favorite book?

LambByChristopherMooreJC:       Yes.  I think, I will give you two again.  One of them is Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos.  It makes me howl every time I read it.  The other one, which goes to myth, is The Once and Future King by T.H. White.  I love that book – it is one of the best books about love I ever read.  Oh, and I’ll give you a third one – I love Lamb by Christopher Moore, because he totally turns the Jesus myth on its head.  It’s the story of Jesus told by his best friend Biff.  Biff never figures out that Jesus is the Messiah, and Biff keeps trying to protect Jesus because Jesus doesn’t know how to defend himself, and he goes on the road with him to defend him.  It’s hilarious!  There’s one thing, Jesus thinks he might be the Messiah but he doesn’t know how to be a Messiah so he decides to go find those three wise men he’s been told about – because one is in China and one is in India and one is – I can’t remember where else, maybe Japan.  On the first birthday he is away, he is in China, and he’s homesick, so the Chinese people fix him a nice birthday dinner which is how the custom of Jews eating Chinese food on Christmas got started.

SN:      Aw, got it!  Thank you so much for taking the time to do the interview, Jim.  Looking forward to your visit in October!

More information on Jim’s Workshop – Archetypal America October 23rd and 24th, 2015 in St. Paul, MN

Life Beyond A Crisis: Uncovering the Secret Next Chapter of our Lives

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected, love and beauty at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link

My first workshop of the year is sponsored by Stillpoint Center for Christian Spirituality and will be held at All Saints Church in Pasadena, one of the most beautiful venues in Southern California. I taught a workshop there last year about Pilgrimage using the film, The Way. We subsequently produced a self guided workshop based on that day long pilgrimage.

BEstI’m delighted to have been invited back for another workshop this year and I’ve chosen to focus on The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Part of my inspiration for the course came from something a good friend said to me while we were having lunch about ten years ago. He was a few days shy of his 80th birthday and while we were sipping wine and waiting for our entrees to arrive he leaned in close to me and said, “You know the mid-life crisis? You have another one to look forward to.” I’ve never forgotten his remark and as I approach the half-way mark of my eighth decade, I’ve begun to watch for signs.

“When old words dies on the tongue, new melodies break forth from the heart;
and where old tracks are lost, new country is revealed with its wonders. “
– Rabindranath Tagore

I believe that’s why the film The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has been so popular with viewers—so unexpectedly popular, in fact, that a sequel is set to be released the first week in March. The film captures its main characters deep in the throes of this crisis. It’s most marked characteristic is the shocking revelation that their identities, the life narratives they’ve carefully crafted for themselves are way past their “sell-by” date and they find themselves confronted by the need to discover new meaning, new purpose for their lives.

I hope you will be able to join me. Please do share this information with your friends in the LA area or those who might want to escape the cold to enjoy some Southern California sunshine next month. There is even a Facebook Event created to make it easier to share with your friends.

When: Saturday March 7th, 2015, 9am-3:30pm
Where: The historic campus of All Saints Church
132 N. Euclid Ave
Pasadena, CA 91101
Detail: People of all ages will learn about moving from crisis to re-birth, discovering a secret chapter to our lives, aligning with grace through chaos, navigating the unexpected and beauty and love at any age.
Fee: $58
Registration link

The Best of Movies 2014 – Part 1

When I began to reflect on the movies I’ve seen over the past year, I was surprised to discover that nearly all of them dealt with themes of Passion, the mystery of Vocation and Calling, Devotion and Duty—subjects that come up nearly every day in the conversations about discernment that I have as a spiritual director with my directees.


SELMA: Black Lives Matter

selmaIf you see only one film this year, make it Selma – a magnificent, conscience-challenging work, a worthy companion to last year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, 12 Years a Slave. Ignatian prayer and contemplative practice, developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, instructs meditators to place themselves in the scriptural passage with Jesus, just as if we were actually present at the event. Selma accomplishes just this placing viewers in the events rather than allowing us to be observers. The buffer of history that gave viewers some distance in 12 Years a Slave is not available here. Television coverage from Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY, as well as ongoing coverage of efforts to deny voter registration to minorities in many states, make the historic march from Selma to Montgomery seem like it happened yesterday rather than 50 years ago. Anchored by David Oyelowo’s galvanizing portrayal of Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King and directed by Ava DuVernay, it is a searing call to take action and an indictment against the injustices that continue to shame our nation. My African-American friends have repeatedly and patiently reminded me I can’t understand what it is like to live in a Black or Brown skin. Bearing helpless witness and burning with rage as Annie Lee Cooper (Oprah Winfrey in a wonderful cameo) maintains her dignity and resolve despite as she is repeatedly denied the right to register to vote may be as close as I ever come to understanding.

Check this link to read an excellent interview with the actor David Oyelowo about the impact that playing Dr. King on his own faith.

Charlie Rose’s interview with director Ava DuVernay is equally interesting.


IDA: In the Shadow of the Holocaust

IdaThe most profound and haunting film I saw this year was Ida by Polish director, Pawel Pawlikowski. Photographed in black and white, the images are austere and beautiful. The editing is designed to make us linger contemplatively over each scene, digesting it from the points of view of each of the main characters. Ida, a young postulate nun on the threshold of taking vows discovers she is, in fact, Jewish and one of only two members of her family to survive the Holocaust. Ida takes a leave from the convent to join her embittered aunt in a search for the truth about the death of their other family members. The sheltered Ida is introduced to a world of which she has no experience—a world that includes romance and sex, cowardice, heroism, disillusionment, despair and death. The camera stays on her mostly silent response to these events and as Ida discerns whether to return to the convent or stay in the world, the film superbly illustrates the grace and mystery of vocation.


CALVARY: The Sins of the Fathers

Calvalry_filmThe great Irish actor Brendan Gleeson (probably best-known to American audiences for his portrayal of Mad-Eye Moody in the Harry Potter movies) gives one of the best performances of the year as Father James, a priest in a seaside Irish village. The film opens in a confessional where Father James (a widower with an adult daughter who came late to the priesthood) is told under the seal of confession that, although he is personally innocent, that he will be murdered in seven days, as retribution for the unprosecuted sexual crimes committed against children by pedophile priests and covered up by church hierarchy.

The film follows Father James through each of the seven days as he encounters several of the villagers he ministers to and wonders along with the audience which of them passed sentence on him in the confessional. He wonders if he is actually of any use to them, wrestles with the temptation to flee and questions the responsibilities of his vocation—particularly compassion, forgiveness and faith in God, as the seventh day grows closer. The film skilfully balances suspense with characteristic Irish black humor and is populated by a wonderful supporting cast led by Chris O’Dowd (St. Vincent and Bridesmaids) and others recognizable from Masterpiece Theatre, Game of Thrones, etc.

Calvary is now available on demand through many cable companies and is also available on Amazon Prime.


THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL: The Virtue and Vocation of Civility

Budapest-liftI enjoyed this movie when I saw it last summer but it didn’t stay with me like some of director Wes Anderson’s other films, particularly The Darjeeling Limited. Then, about a week ago I happened to catch the last 10 minutes of it while waiting for another program to begin on HBO.

In one of the final scenes a journalist asks the narrator, Mr. Moustafa about his relationship with the film’s hero, M. Gustave. Moustafa replies, “There are still faint glimpses of civilization in this barbaric slaughter house that was once known as humanity. He was one of them. . . You see, we shared a vocation. He certainly sustained the illusion with marvelous grace.” I had not caught the reference to vocation when I saw the film in the theatre. It intrigued me enough to watch the movie again on HBO. Seeing the film through the lens of shared vocation completely re-framed it for me.

M. Gustave, played by Ralph Fiennes (another Harry Potter alumnus Voldemort) is the manager of an elegant hotel in pre-war Eastern Europe whose life is dedicated to service, hospitality, good manners and civility.

Hospitality is thought to be the core virtue of all of the Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Genesis 18 begins with a description of Abraham and Sarah’s warm hospitality, their welcoming of strangers.

The Grand Budapest Hotel, gorgeously designed and photographed, is both an elegy for the lost virtues of hospitality and civility and a moving plea for their return. This film, like Birdman which I’ll discuss in a later blog, is a fable and is photographed more like a fairy-tale than Into the Woods.


In upcoming blogs, I plan to write next about Birdman, Mr, Turner, Whiplash and Chef; Boyhood, Saint Vincent and Force Majeure (Turist), The Imitation Game and The Theory of Everything: The Lunchbox and Words and Pictures; Foxcatcher and Nightcrawler; Pride and Into the Woods.

Starting out on the Way

You are invited to post questions and comments about your experience starting out with The Way: A Journey of Healing and Self Acceptance in the comment area below.

We will post specific discussion topics in new posts in the coming weeks.

Visit this link to check in and see all of the discussion posts:
https://jimcurtan.com/category/the-way-course-discussions/

 

Learning How to See – Honoring Mike Nichols

mike-nichols1I begin the first reflection in The Way with a quote from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “The whole of life lies in the verb seeing.” Mike Nichols taught my generation how to see.

College students in the 60’s memorized the improvisational comedy routines he did with his partner Elaine May. They and their contemporaries didn’t tell jokes like Bob Hope and Milton Berle and other favorites of the “greatest generation.” Their humor was different, edgier, situational rooted in the angst, neuroses, and existential panic of the first generation to grow up with the bomb.

Nichols first film, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf exposed people to a view of marriage and relationship that was the polar opposite of “Leave It to Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” It shocked viewers as it hurtled forward at roller coaster speed moving audiences from laughter to heartbreak and back.

Life1969His second film, The Graduate (1967) was a cri de coeur for a generation who was being told that the future was “plastic.” The same year the film was released, “Don’t Trust Anyone over 30” became the generation’s slogan. Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin, the rebel without a clue, became the symbol of its confusion and unrest, so much so that the July 11, 1969  cover of Life magazine features an image of Dustin Hoffman contrasted with an image of John Wayne and the caption: “Dusty and the Duke—A Choice of Heroes.” (I have a copy of the magazine.) At the end of “The Graduate” Dustin Hoffman and Katherine Ross, accompanied by the music of Simon and Garfunkel, escape without having any idea of where they were going. The songs gave voice to Benjamin’s inarticulate longing and to that of much of my generation.

More often than not his best films portrayed people trying not to lose their souls in an increasingly impersonal world. He followed The Graduate with an adaptation of Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22  a satire of war that mirrored the nation’s frustration with Vietnam. Silkwood dramatized the efforts of the whistleblower heroine, and gave voice to baby-boomer paranoia and legitimate distrust of faceless corporations. Charlie Wilson’s War, Nichols last film in a career that spanned forty years, depicted an anti-hero’s maneuvering his way through the swamp of government bureaucracy in Washington.

Mike Nichols was an artist of his age and for the ages. His work challenged and inspired me and I will miss him.