Saturday, November 7, 2015

become anyone you want for a day

We interrupt the usual program for something new--The Danish Girl. Saw it at a screening tonight with Q&A with the screenwriter, Lucinda Coxon, afterward. As the film has not properly come out yet, I will not actually say much--I don't expect--about its details. I was not sworn to secrecy as with a different screening a couple weeks ago (technically, I'm not sure I'm even supposed to mention what film that one was, let alone any details)--

(These screenings are benefit of living around LA, by the way, not some perk of being a movie blogger. Though, I do with that blogging every day about movies came with more perks than simply having an excuse to watch a movie every day.)

--but I also don't want to SPOIL a film that is not really in theaters yet. It is a completed film, has been seen by audiences at film festivals and whatnot, though, so I also may be more specific if necessary rather than be stuck with broadstrokes.

I will return to the 80s and teenagers tomorrow (after a long day at a tournament), but I think the two actually connect in an important way. Teenagers are this invented cusp we decided needed its own identifier about a century ago. We can (assuming you are older) remember being teenagers, remember the way every day might seem like a challenge simply to exist. While talking about her writing process, Coxon used an interesting phrase; while writing different characters and getting into a fiction, she said there is a "challenge to be the same person each day." To me, that phrase embodies teenagerhood... and childhood, but not to the same degree because so many children (and keep in mind I am writing primarily about the Western world; I understand that much of this is the privilege of living in the so-called First World) are fine with being a different person each day if necessary--like the Joker in Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum. That phrase, though--lately I think that I imagine adulthood the same way. Each day you wake up and (sort of) decide to be you. You decide to be someone who gets out of bed. You decide to be someone who goes to school or to work or who sits and plays video games all day or... well, whomever it is that you decide to be. And, I do not mean to suggest that this is all some giant, purely conscious effort, nor even entirely deliberate. But, one's identity--the way you present it to the world--that is an ongoing effort that can be (and often is) altered regularly. I am a teacher when I am in the classroom. I am a father when I am at home. I will be a coach and a judge at the tournament tomorrow. I am a blogger and a philosopher and a movie lover right now. Or, so I try to be. These labels, these identities are not discreet entities; they have plenty of overlap. I can be more than one thing at a time, and sometimes I absolutely need to be none of these things, at least for a moment, because modern life--or is it simply life?--is so very overwhelming.

Lili (Eddie Redmayne) says at one point in the film--after having moved from Copenhagen to Paris--"I can't remember the landscape." See, at the beginning of the film, "he" is a painter and he paints, well... he paints the same landscape again and again, a line of trees by a fjord where he lived as a child. There's a sense as the story unfolds that Lili is returning to the time there because that is a time when she could exist before. But, also something resonated with me in particular in the repetition of it. Painting the same painting again and again. And, his wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander) also makes it as an artist by painting the same thing (sort of) again and again--her husband as a woman. And, egotist that I am, I thought of myself, writing away in this blog, especially that first year, watching the same film every day, writing and writing and writing as if some grand epiphany was ahead. Also, in my thesis folder (in which reside the sources I'm working with currently for my master's thesis--I've also got four binders and a stack of books), there's a Carl Sagan line on a post-it note: "Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known." I think that's where my head was during much of that first year with this blog, like I was waiting for something to suddenly jump out of the thousands upon thousands of words and... I don't know, solve the answer to life, the universe and everything.

(And, no, it isn't 42.)

Other moments, I was just scraping by, figuring out a topic as I sat down to write...

And, that's life. It's not profound at all, but it's worth saying--I figure people turn to religion because those waiting moments are too many, the answers too few, the scraping by too often. But, what I learned in the first year, and in retrospect had learned many times before, and have learned still since, was that the scraping by and the epiphanic moments are one and the same. There isn't some grand epiphany, just a series of everyday, humdrum epiphanies. Like Einar Wegener realizing he is Lili Elba, like the jocks realizing that Lucas Bly is better at not quitting than they will ever be, like me discovering that I wanted to teach, like Phil Connors realizing that the everyday world--the locale, the people--is everything.

For me there was also a painful aspect to The Danish Girl in that, as Coxon put it, it's about "two people who love one another but are failing one another." Like the decision to be you, or me, at the start of the day, I think back to when my wife and I were first separated, and try to pinpoint the day that I woke up not feeling like something was missing, broken. A part of my thesis is an argument about how a blog (like a diary) can be a way to create self. Not just label it, not just record it. To create it. I am who I say I am in this blog. In my wary moments, I fear the transience of such a thing, like I will become something... else, something lesser, if I stop writing. But, I'm not so sure I agree with wary me anymore. (My tune may change, of course, when this third year's end is near.) I'm reminded of the ending to About Time, when Tim (Domnhall Gleeson) first goes through the motions of his day, then repeats it knowing what will happen to get through things with less tension, less of the everyday anxiety, then he stops repeating days altogether because he has learned to appreciate things as they come. He has stopped worrying about his family and his job and his life and now can just... live.

I'm not that far, just yet. Some days I feel like I'm close. Some days the vagaries of the world around me get in the way of appreciation. Other people are other people, and they have their own things to do and people to be, and we can't always agree on how things should be. That is the way of humanity, I suppose. That we can change who we are day in and day out, that we can recreate ourselves by choice (or resist change stubbornly, as well), that we cannot even agree with ourselves from day to day sometimes--this is why we fight, why we hate, why we kill and destroy.

But, this is also why we embrace, why we love, why we raise each other up and create things.

In the end, there are many people who would not like The Danish Girl simply because of its subject matter. And, that's too bad. Between Tom Hooper's direction, Lucinda Coxon's writing and amazing performances from both Redmayne and Vikander, this film is full of beautiful visuals and a very intimate look at, well, the pain of being different. It's the kind of thing with which more of us should familiarize ourselves. The world would be better off.

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