A look at relationships, personal growth, & living/working in the 21st century.

Archive for April, 2012

Carnage

A Movie Review:
Carnage” – A Modern-day “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
I often examine relationships, so I thought I’d share some comments on last year’s Jodie Foster film “Carnage.” The setting of Carnage (2011), directed by Roman Polanski, is a planned meeting between a pair of upper middle-class, Manhattan parents after one 11-year-old boy has knocked out the tooth of a same-aged peer. The polite conversation is initially focused on finding a resolution to the children’s conflict. However, the discussion rapidly broadens to larger societal topics of violent behavior and whether anyone is ever truly concerned outside their own selfish needs. Interestingly, Carnage seems reminiscent of Mike Nichols’ 1966 film, the Richard Burton/Elizabeth Taylor – George Segal/Sandy Dennis couples’ bout, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” The Burton-Taylor film is a similarly dark, comic drama where two couples, with their own marital issues, verbally spar while trying to initially remain civil. The strife is both inter-couple and intra-couple. Further, for both films alcohol plays a role in loosening up the players’ inhibitions, whose sober levels of restraint differ vastly.

For Carnage, the ever-so-civilized arbitration over espresso and tulips soon descends from gauged remarks to uncensored rebuffs as the gloves come off to address more base needs.

Carnage’s male protagonists are John C. Reilly and Christoph Waltz. Though initially seeming to have little in common, the men learn they are birds of a feather in their tightly held views of gender roles and the ways such perspectives dictate marriage and child-rearing. They both want wives able to hold their own in a social setting. This is apparent in how quickly these men selfishly engage in male bonding and all but ignore their wives during the verbal bouts of the evening. Concurrently, they want spouses who handle domestic duties (i.e., raising children, keeping a home), while deferring to them when differences of opinion arise over those issues. Waltz is charming mix of modern civility and primal hedonism. Initially, he lobbies for a fair depiction of his son. However, he soon transforms to almost celebrate the boy’s childish behavior. Simultaneously, he seeks to satisfiy his appitites for whiskey and cigars, thanks to the hospitality of his host. His conflicts are apparent in an especially telling interchange where, when faced with Foster’s labeling of his son as a maniac, protested by Winslet, he instead concurs.

Foster and Winslet want to be equal partners in marital relationships, while hanging onto a desire to have a conveniently available white knight ready to rescue them at a moment’s notice – a view similar to that held by Taylor and Dennis. Who among us cannot relate to wanting the best of both worlds? At one point, Foster is reduced to tears of frustration, like her forerunner Sandy Dennis. However, unlike Dennis, Foster’s tears seem more an angry, tension-reliever than a desparate plea for help. Foster’s tears fail to compare to Winslet’s attention-seeking efforts. Although Winslet “tossed (her) cookies,” as aptly described by Reilly, she quickly rebounds for more verbal fist-to-cuffs.

Both movies are a delight if you enjoy witty, barbed interchange which varies in its level of appropriateness and unapologetically approaches vulgarity.

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The Urban Good Samaritan – a random act of kindness

This morning on public transit a situation occurred which made me think about human decency, altruism, and my own thought processes. In an otherwise quiet train car, a woman sitting across the aisle from me began to loudly ask passengers for help getting something to eat. I’m accustomed to such public requests-given I live in Chicago-although I would guess most pleas I hear tend to be for money, rather than food. The woman’s desparation certainly sounded sincere, unlike many able-appearing individuals who give the impression that they maintain a certain emotional distance as they beg in public. The crowd of people initially kept looking forward or down and did not respond. After the woman had repeatedly asked for assistance getting food, a well-dressed, 20-something-year-old man, sitting immediately in front of me, unzipped his courier bag, withdrew a banana, and handed it to the apparently hungry woman. The man made this gesture with almost no personal interaction other than the critical act of helping someone in need. He said nothing, and apparently never even made eye contact with the person he helped. The woman quickly started eating the banana and then paused to offer a brief, yet loud thanks to the man. The man continued staring forward and did not respond again.
Observing what occurred on the train really made me think. I must say, this situation even provoked some guilt in me. I very rarely give any money to those begging in the streets. I believe in philanthropy and I once participated in a walk to raise awareness (and money) for the mentally ill. The woman on the train likely had her own mental health issues, based on her overall presentation. Although I have worked with the mentally ill, when hearing the woman’s pleas, I found myself avoiding any consideration of trying to be helpful. I even had two packages of snacks in my bag (cheese/crackers), as well as my actual lunch, but I kept thinking selfishly that I couldn’t afford to be taking care of anyone else’s needs.
What does it take to move someone from the place of being an uninvolved observer to stepping up and acting as a good samaritan? I remember my Grandmother reading me the bible story of the good samaritan, and I recall her example of donating money, and her time, to what she deemed worthy causes. She was never wealthy but still gave what she felt she could. So, why did I remain uninvolved given what I was taught? I had extra snacks with me and could easily have afforded to give away a $.33 package of snack crackers, leaving myself another package to spare (and my lunch). Further, this woman was asking for food, not money. Thus, her ability to use my gift inappropriately was unlikely. This issue of asking for food, as opposed to money, is one I often tell myself makes such pleas for assistance more palatable and worthy of sympathy. Hopefully, after this experience I will move toward making a behavior change and consider giving of myself appropriately. After all, at the end of the day, if I had given up some of my crackers, it would not have put any real hardship on me. When I layed down for the night, I still had a roof over my head and food in my kitchen. Further, I still had some unpaid bills which no snack crackers could have paid. Wish me luck in changing into a more giving person. Tomorrow’s another day and I’ll be back on that same train. Maybe those random acts of kindness really are worth aspiring to. We can make a difference-one person at a time. What do you think?