The Thing I Like About … [spoilers]

As Above So Below: when the tour guide’s friend acknowledges his child.

In As Above, the main characters are seeking secret treasure in the catacombs underneath Paris. They ask a couple of locals to help them navigate the parts of the tunnels where tourists aren’t supposed to go. After the group leaves the main tunnels, they quickly become lost, cut off, and terrified. They begin to see things – images and even corporeal items – from their pasts, and to hear voices from beyond the grave.

By the end, the few survivors are injured, apparently trapped, and surrounded by creatures that crept out of the darkness. There’s little hope … until the main character figures out the secret to escape: confront whatever shames them.

The local man who had brought them into the catacombs asks no questions and wastes no time. He admits to having a child that he knows is his but has never claimed. He offers no apology and no excuse.

And he is allowed to escape.

We walk through our lives complaining about the things that have hurt us, but we often turn a blind eye to the things we have done, to the hurts we have caused. We pretend to ourselves that we don’t know why we feel bad or why we never seem to be able to look on the bright side. We pretend that we’ve left the past behind us, and that we have no sins to report – certainly not enough sins to warrant the things we have suffered at the hands of others or at the hands of fate.

But we’re only pretending.

We always know what we’ve done. And as long as we don’t acknowledge it, it will stay with us, haunting us, attacking us again and again, driving us deeper into the pit we’ve dug for ourselves. We’re never really unaware of our crimes, and convincing others we’re innocent never really convinces us.

Of course, some of the characters hadn’t even really done anything wrong; they just thought they had. They had been children, witness to a tragedy that they only imagined was their fault. But the effect was the same – a cesspool of shame and guilt that swirled just below the surface of everything they thought and everything they were.

Once the shame is acknowledged, however, it trickles away like water out of a tub. Once the crimes – real or imagined – are faced and dealt with, the guilt evaporates, leaving a clean slate and a fresh new heart. There’s no need for apology – why would there be shame if there was no regret? – and there’s no need for excuses – everyone in the tunnels had something that tormented them, some transgression that darkened their spirits. Everyone hurts and is hurt, because everyone is a human being.

And the ones who accept that and are willing to deal with the consequences … they go free.

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The Thing I Like About …

Sense and Sensibility (2007): the part where Colonel Brandon tells Marianne the truth.

Marianne had said, with a rather superior tone, that she could not love a man who only told her what she wanted to hear or who only praised her accomplishments because they were hers; she wanted a man who would always be honest with her.

This is a perfectly wonderful goal.

But when Colonel Brandon offers a critique of her piano-playing skills, she is offended. She complains to her sister that Brandon must be the sort of person who finds fault with everything and everyone. She goes on to develop a close friendship with Brandon – lauding him as the only person in the neighbourhood with whom she can have an intelligent conversation – but when asked to consider this man as a potential suitor, she runs away.

For some reason, she does not want the man who is always honest with her … and she runs as quickly as possible to Willoughby, a man who offers her romance, sweet words, and all the superficial praise she had earlier decried as false and unacceptable.

Why would she do this? An honest relationship is so … preferable. Why would she choose a man who was everything she said she didn’t want, and set herself up to be deceived and heartbroken?

Because superficial relationships and quoting-poems romance is so much easier to lose.

It ultimately isn’t about Colonel Brandon or Willoughby, or whether any of us might have fallen for Willoughby’s deception, or whether Marianne deserved something better than the shallow love she shared with Willoughby. It’s about trust – in others, but more importantly, in herself.

If we can believe that we deserve good things – like honesty, affection, and fidelity – then we’re less likely to accept the things we don’t deserve – like lies, fake sentiment, or being taken for granted. If we can believe that we are enough in ourselves, we’re less likely to settle for relationships that don’t meet our needs. When we know that we are enough in ourselves, we don’t have to cling desperately to anyone else … and that allows us to evaluate their characters, to make decisions for our own happiness, and to explore deeper commitment without the constant fear of being let down.

We can relax and enjoy the honest relationship we were looking for, instead of seeking out relationships that we won’t mind losing.

And if Colonel Brandon had been undeserving? – if he had been cruel, or haughty, or too annoying for Marianne to bear his company? With trust in herself, she wouldn’t need to run away, to anything or anyone. She could know that she was all right by herself.

And because she won’t be afraid to say, “I play the piano just fine, thank you very much,” she’ll be able to be honest in relationships herself – and that allows everyone to win.

One Page Stories

Shoes

Christina turned onto 9th Street and carefully guided her blue SUV in between parked cars and adventurous cyclists.

“I just think I need to get out of this town,” she said to her passenger, James Jenkins. “Out of this university. Just go somewhere else, where I don’t have to think about what happened.”

“Don’t leave,” James pleaded, turning toward her in his seat. “Things are going good for you here. And you said you don’t even remember what happened.”

She glanced at him in irritation before returning her attention to the road. “I don’t have to remember it,” she said. “I know it happened! Those guys assaulted me, James! They put something in my drink, and they attacked me when I was unconscious, and they left me on the floor!” She shook her head. “Look, I know you think there’s more to the fraternity than those pieces of crap, but every time I walk by the building, or see someone I met that night, I wonder if they remember me, if they were the ones who did it. I have to wonder what they did.” She ran the back of her hand across her eyes. “I just need to leave, James. I just need to get out of here.”

“They’re not all bad, Chris,” James said quietly. “You know, maybe if you went to the police about it, and tried to identify them, they could be punished for what they did. And you could stop wondering.”

“I went to the police,” she replied. “They made me have a rape-exam, but nobody found anything. And they kept asking me how much I had to drink, and if I was with anyone. They didn’t seem to care at all.”

“I’m sure they care,” James said. He frowned. “Maybe somebody else at the party saw something?” he asked finally. “Maybe your friend Jenny saw who it might have been?”

Christina shook her head. “She left me there to go hook up with some guy. She was totally wasted. She said she’d stay with me, but she left me there.”

They drove in silence for a moment. “If anyone else saw anything,” Christina said finally. “Wouldn’t they have done something?” She looked at him again. “All those friends of yours? Wouldn’t they have done something, or stopped them?”

James had trouble meeting her gaze. “They aren’t all my friends,” he protested. “The ones that are, are all really good guys.”

Christina shrugged. “I know you mean that, James,” she said. “But at least one of them took advantage of me when I was alone and vulnerable. That’s not really good, James.” She wiped her eyes again. “All I can remember is all these guys talking to Jenny, and someone handing me a drink, and then later I remember someone taking my shoes off – my pink sneakers. I loved those shoes.” Her voice trailed off as she relived what brief and disjointed moments lingered in her memory. Someone – or maybe more than one – had taken her shoes, and hurt her, and left her on the floor in the foyer of a stranger’s house.

She steered the SUV onto a side street and slowly came to a stop in front of James’ apartment building. “I know they’re not all bad,” she said. She tried to smile. “You’re not,” she added. “You’ve been really great about all this, really supportive.”

“I try,” James said, giving her an equally half-hearted smile. “I understand why you would leave, but I hope you stay. I would miss you.”

“I would miss you too,” Christina told him. “You’re a good friend, James.”

James blinked, and swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. “So are you,” he said. He grabbed his backpack and opened the door. He tried not to think about the night of the party, when Christina was hurt, but he couldn’t help it. He had been right there, for God’s sake! He had been there. He had seen three of his fraternity brothers – ones he didn’t know very well, ones who seemed a little too gregarious for his tastes – circled around someone who was passed out on a couch. He had seen one of them removing pink sneakers and putting them on the floor by the couch. He had seen.

“Don’t worry, bro,” one of the men said, clapping him on the arm. “She’s just out of it. We’ve got her.”

He had thought to help her, but the three men had seemed so sure of themselves, so affable and innocent. He hadn’t known who it was. He couldn’t see her face. Just the shoes, really. Just the pink shoes.

He had walked away. And the man who had clapped him on the arm had grinned at him and told him he was a good guy.

He shouldered his backpack and leaned back into the car. “I really hope you stay, Chris,” he said to her, and shut the door.

She watched him walk to the door of his apartment, then waved at him and slowly drove away.

The Thing I Like About …

Phonebooth: when he starts telling the truth.

In Phonebooth, publicist Stu Shepard finds himself trapped in a phone booth, at the mercy of a man who has called the pay phone and is willing to kill passersby if Stu doesn’t do exactly what he tells him to do. The caller (who has a rifle and has already killed someone in a way that frames Stu) is somewhere close by, but Stu can’t see him. Stu is helpless to do anything except stay on the line, and listen to a stranger tell him that he can go as soon as he’s learned his lesson and told the truth.

Eventually, Stu’s wife, the client he has a crush on, his work-intern, and what seems to be the entire constabulary of the city are gathered around this phone booth, trying to talk Stu down (because they all still believe that he’s the shooter). The caller threatens both Stu’s wife and his pretty client, forcing Stu finally to make a choice – tell the truth, or these women pay the price.

Stu leans out of the phone booth, and tells the truth.

He tells his wife the truth about the client. He tells his client the truth about his marriage and his motives. He tells his intern the truth about being a publicist. He tells the truth about his suits. He tells the truth about his fears and shortcomings. He tells the truth about his soul.

It isn’t just that this is a powerful moment in the film; it’s that so many of us have been there (usually without the deranged caller taking potshots at our loved ones). We’ve all been asked to face the truth about ourselves, and all too often we’ve continued our façades, our half-truths, our face-saving maneuvers … protecting our pride at the expense of our relationships and our own happiness. But underneath it all, we know the truth. No matter how far down we bury the truth, we all know ourselves. We all know.

When Stu tells his truth, it sets him free, rather literally. Maybe if we can be as brave, we can be free too.

The Thing I Like About …

Psych: the episode with their nerd friend and his hot wife [warning: spoiler].

In that episode, the guys’ old childhood friend helps them with a case.  He’s a completely closeted nerd.  He is well-off, and has afforded to make a secret room with a hidden door that opens off of his sports-themed den.  He explains that when his hot wife met him, he was posing as a “regular” guy to fit in with a group, and afterward he didn’t reveal his true self because he was afraid she wouldn’t love a man who was actually very different from herself.  For however many years they had been married, he had been living a lie, pretending to like football, and hiding his true nature – and some fairly impressive science fiction memorabilia.

By the end of the episode, the measures he has had to take to keep his secret life a secret are no longer up to the task of helping Shawn and Gus solve their case.  In a moment of carelessness, he leaves the secret door open, and his wife walks in.  She looks around, asking where she is, and when he finally admits that he is in fact a nerd, she looks vaguely irritated.  She explains that she has seen every episode of the original Battlestar Galactica, and that she is disappointed he didn’t take her to Comic-Con but instead pretended to be “away on business”.  She isn’t angry or shocked or sad; she’s thrilled that they now have so much more in common, and that they can be their true selves.

Is that the way every honey-I’ve-been-living-a-lie story ends?  Of course not.  Should it be? Well, yes!  And certainly the episode gave some very good lessons: first, the things we fear are probably not nearly as scary as we think they’re going to be; second, even if everything had ended horribly, it would have been better and easier than living another day of lies and hiding; and finally – most importantly – be yourself, dammit!

Be yourself.

A Countdown for the Holidays

The Wisdom of Pinhead: Part Two
“He’s makin’ a list.  He’s checkin’ it twice …”*

Last year for Christmas, I blogged about my favourite part of Hellraiser V: Inferno.  I talked about how Pinhead’s dark, scary message was really a cautionary Christmas tale – avoid superficiality and selfishness and embrace what really matters, or, you know, pay horribly forever.  I realized afterward that Pinhead has always had some very Christmas-y things to say … when seen in the right light.  So this year, I will be presenting a Pinhead-Christmas-personal empowerment-happy-joy-countdown.  At the end of it, I hope readers – Christian and non-Christian alike – are more disposed to find the love and joy the Christmas holiday represents.

And maybe they’ll want to watch the movies too.

Pinhead: “Ah, Kirsty. We thought we lost you.”
Kirsty Cotton: “I didn’t open the box!”
Pinhead: “Oh, Kirsty. So eager to play, so reluctant to admit it.”

People have curiosity about things; curiosity has little to do with any other emotion, such as love, empathy, fear, or ethical consideration.  It’s simply … curiosity.

People have inner darkness, mostly because we are creatures much like all the others on the planet – we have basic instincts for survival, which include the ability to kill if necessary.  Of course, we’ve complicated those instincts with layers of civilization, cognitive development, social development, and a complex world full of thousands upon thousands of rules, scenarios, guidelines, circumstances, etc.  We have come to a place where we try to be “good” – to kill only when it’s incredibly necessary, to avoid hurting others, to do things to help others with or without recompense.  We value social connection; we value love and all the selfless things that go along with it.  We work to have a world where we all feel safe, and where no one has to kill anyone.  But underneath it all is the instinct, which gets translated as darkness by our “sophisticated” brains, and suddenly we’re submerged in the guilt-ridden world of things-we-think-about-that-make-us-feel-weird-about-ourselves.

And what’s the harm in that?  Well, when we put a lot of judgment words like “bad”, “dark”, “evil”, “weird” on entirely random thoughts, we don’t just judge the things society has excluded, like murder; we also judge ourselves, and begin to mistrust our thoughts, and to shove them away in a dark place, and to ignore them even though they keep talking.  And suddenly a random thought becomes an insistent, subconscious buzzing that stimulates our imagination – because that’s the only part still listening – and transforms itself into whatever the imagination decides.  Basically, this unacknowledged darkness ferments into something the thinker never thought, and ordinary people can suddenly find themselves behaving in ways that would have shocked them cold earlier in the day.

If Kirsty had been more willing to acknowledge her curiosity, she might have been able to control herself better.  She might have been more able to make sure her actions matched up with what her goodness and ethics and wisdom guided her to do.  She had pushed her darkness away for so long that she was now completely unaware of it, and this allowed her darkness to do, well, pretty much whatever it wanted. And so, even while her brain told her, “Good people don’t want this,” her hands just kept picking up the shiny puzzle-box.

Look inside yourself.  Look at your weaknesses as well as your strengths – not with judgment or revulsion, but simply to know.  Know your darkness.  Know your limitations.  Know yourself.  Once you know yourself, then all your actions will truly be yours, and your goodness will be deliberate and true.

 

* “Santa Claus is comin’ to town” by Coots and Gillespie

 

The Thing I Like About …

Fever Night:  the punchline.  [Warning: spoilers]

Fever Night is a … strange … little movie, one that has a lot of deliberate camp, some decent acting, a fairly interesting premise, tolerable effects, and for whatever reason anyone might have, an overabundance of altered-states imagery.  The people in the film don’t take drugs particularly, but apparently the audience is supposed to feel like we have.

The film does a good job of melding some creepy stuff with tongue-in-cheek characters and ludicrous situations.  It follows a couple and their friend into the woods where they intend to raise a satanic demon and, you know, command it to give them prosperity and all that.  The male half of the couple is determined that this demon they’ll be summoning will give him “what he really wants.”

In the end, this determined man is confronted with an entity that he believed to be his girlfriend, but her head has been replaced by an animal head and her shapely body has now been adorned with giant boy-bits (kids read this blog).  She expresses confusion at his alarm, saying, “But this is what you really wanted!”

It’s not staggering as punch-lines go, but it made me think about all the times we, in the real world, ignore our darker side, hoping it just doesn’t exist rather than facing it and learning to control it.  All the times we don’t ask for what we really want because we’re afraid of being judged, or mocked, or disappointed, or because others will distance themselves from what we imagine to be our whacky notions.  Maybe we would be judged, or mocked, or abandoned; maybe facing our dark side is a scary prospect – but it seems like it might be better than living a perpetual lie, judging and abandoning ourselves.  If the determined man had been more honest with himself about what he really wanted, maybe he could have found it sooner – and without the painful, frightened trip through the woods.