Saturday, February 22, 2020

#53 / Ordinary?

Mick LaSalle (pictured above), is a movie critic for the San Francisco Chronicle. In a review yesterday, LaSalle reported that he "hated" the film Ordinary Love, which stars Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville. This judgment about the film (which I haven't seen) is coupled with a statement by LaSalle that these actors "give admirable performances," and that Manville, in particular, is "close to great" in the film.

Since the Chronicle maintains a rather formidable paywall, I am reproducing, below, the gravamen of the complaint that LaSalle makes in his review:

Tolstoy wrote that happy families are pretty much alike, and unhappy families are unhappy in different ways, but the opposite is true, at least when it comes to marriage. Unhappy marriages fracture along lines so common as to be cliched — money, in-laws, infidelity. But the happy marriages of even our closest friends are a mystery. A happy marriage is a closed circle, with its own rules and logic, which we can never penetrate. 
So during the first minutes of “Ordinary Love,” I’m thinking, “OK, here we go, a movie about ordinary love and how it works.” In the first scene, the banter between the husband and wife sounds pretty forced and not too clever. We get no sense of who these people are, except that the filmmakers apparently think that they’re really cute. But that’s OK. It’s the first five minutes. Let the movie settle in. 
Then the wife takes a shower and discovers a lump in her breast. 
Oh. So that’s how it is. 
“Ordinary Love” is not going to be a movie about marriage. It’s going to be a movie either about death or the threat of death. It’s going to be about the other bad thing that can happen — not money, not in-laws, not infidelity, but the one thing that eventually gets you even if all the others don’t....
“Ordinary Love” takes that stick and pokes you for a very simple reason: because it’s the absolute easiest thing to do....
As soon as the wife gets sick, we care about her and we care about him, not because of anything to do with them, but because we don’t want to get sick ourselves, and we don’t want our loved ones to get sick. 
For my money, a movie that capitalizes on that fear, while offering nothing else, is the cheapest possible creation, a vandal to human happiness that reminds us of that which everyone knows and must forget in order to function: You’re going to die. And everyone you care about? Them, too!

This review caused me to reread my blog post from yesterday. That's the blog post reporting on a conversation between Warren Zevon and David Letterman, with Zevon, who was suffering from an incurable illness, responding to Letterman's request that Zevon tell him "something about life and death" that Letterman might "not know now." 

Zevon's response to Letterman's question about life and death is that "you're supposed to enjoy every sandwich."

That's good advice, and the underlying truth is that this advice is good because there is nothing, whatsoever, that is "ordinary" about either life or love. 

LaSalle is correct that we are all trying to forget that we, and everyone we love, are going to die. That's true, but we are not dead yet. Not now, and "now" is all we have. "Now" is everything. "Now" is a miracle.

"Dead" is the base case. Check your telescope; examine the universe. Everywhere we look, all we see are pretty pieces of energy and matter, sparkling in a vast and profound emptiness. 

But not here at the sandwich counter. Not here on our lovely planet Earth. Not where love exists because, as another poet named Dylan has said, where love exists: 

Ordinary life? Ordinary love?

Not really. There is nothing "ordinary" about it. Death is ordinary. That we are alive, and that we can love each other, is "extraordinary" in every way.

Every life, every love, every marriage, every sandwich should be a celebration.

Let's not forget it.

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