Thursday, June 21, 2018

‘Thoreau’ explores the life examined

“Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul.” Director: Huey (a.k.a. James Coleman). Screenplay: Huey (a.k.a. James Coleman). Web site. Trailer.

Exploring the nature of our life is one of the noblest pursuits in which we can engage, and writer-philosopher Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) was undeniably one of the best seekers ever to have undertaken this endeavor. As a result of his experiences, he wrote a variety of works covering a range of subjects. But, while the name is a familiar one, many of us are unable to describe his work or ideas with specificity. Thankfully, that shortfall has now been addressed in great detail in the excellent new documentary, “Henry David Thoreau: Surveyor of the Soul,” available for viewing on DVD and at special public screenings.

Born in Concord, Massachusetts, site of the first battle of the American Revolution, Thoreau seemed to have drawn from the revolutionary spirit of his birthplace throughout his life. The alternative views that infused his writings, philosophies, life choices and vocational pursuits set him apart from most of his peers at the time. But that’s no surprise, given that he was possessed of a natural curiosity and a desire to examine himself and his existence with a conscious deliberation that few exercise during their lifetimes.

Considering the diversity of pursuits that characterized his life, it’s difficult to pin down Thoreau to any one particular outlook or accomplishment. He invented technology to make pencil manufacturing more efficient. He was an educator who took an unconventional approach to teaching. He was a naturalist whose observational studies would  prove valuable to latter-day scientists studying climate change. He wrote a variety of books and essays covering a wide range of topics. And, as this film’s subtitle implies, he was an expert land surveyor. But, as should be obvious from these and other endeavors, he surveyed more than just topography; he truly was a surveyor of the soul.

[caption id="attachment_9987" align="aligncenter" width="243"]Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).[/caption]

Thoreau’s best-known experiment in personal introspection came in 1845, when he moved into the woods not far from his home. On July 4 of that year, he embarked on an ironically timed odyssey of personal independence, building a one-room cabin for himself on the shores of Walden Pond. His intent was to spend time making a concerted effort examining what it meant to live life in the moment and exactly who he was as an individual. The result of this two-year venture was Walden: Life in the Woods, arguably Thoreau’s most famous book.

Through his time at Walden Pond, a variety of travels, and the ordinary and extraordinary events of everyday life, Thoreau amassed a wide range of experiences that went into his writings. Over a comparatively short career, he compiled a thoughtful, impressive, eclectic body of work covering a variety of subjects ranging from transcendental philosophy to nature studies to social commentary and even travelogues.

But, despite the diversity of this subject matter, Thoreau often found ways to connect his topics. Understanding this inherent sense of connectedness was important to him, and he frequently sought to address various aspects of it through his work, most notably our connection to ourselves, our connection to nature, and our connection to our society and culture. As a corollary to this, Thoreau also believed it was important that we appreciate and make proper use of the resources afforded by man, nature and technology. He believed there was an intrinsic integration among these elements and that it was in our best interests to understand the nature of these interconnected relationships.

One reason why Thoreau believed that understanding these connections is important is his contention that our thoughts and existence fundamentally mirror one another. It’s an idea, for example, reflected in his work as a surveyor, an outward vocational representation of the “work” he did internally as a surveyor of the soul. Similar parallels can be found in his other writings, particularly his travelogues, which often show connections between what he witnessed and what he was experiencing personally at the time.

As an individual who was part of a larger society, Thoreau also believed it was crucial that we understand our connection to and role in that greater whole. This fueled his social activism efforts, particularly those as an ardent abolitionist. He was so fervent in his beliefs on this subject that some even considered him a radical. However, given his prevailing philosophical and metaphysical outlooks, he could not stand back in good conscience and condone a practice that he saw as a fundamental affront against humanity.

Various aspects of Thoreau’s life also reflected another innate quality – his willingness to go beyond conventional limitations and think outside the box. This thinking can be seen in activities as diverse as his abolitionist activism – far from a widely embraced outlook at the time – to the development of his improved pencil manufacturing technology. It’s also a central theme in his writing, something that genuinely set him apart from many others at the time.

From the foregoing, it’s obvious that many aspects of Thoreau’s thinking are embodiments of conscious creation philosophy, the doctrine that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Connectedness, surpassing limitations and seeing our external world as a reflection of our internal reality, for instance, are all concepts that feed into both Thoreau’s outlooks and the driving principles of conscious creation. It’s unlikely he ever heard of this philosophy, but, from what he thought and wrote, it’s apparent that he understood, practiced and believed in the validity and viability of its basic tenets. Had he lived a century later, he might well have become a master practitioner at it. Conscious creators who have never read his works or studied his life could significantly augment their understanding of this practice from his example, potentially learning much from one of the uncelebrated forerunners of this philosophy.

[caption id="attachment_9988" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Thoreau’s Walden Pond cabin site and memorial rock cairn. Photo courtesy of Films by Huey.[/caption]

“Surveyor of the Soul” does an excellent job of profiling its central figure, providing great detail about Thoreau’s life and work, intertwined with thoughtful examinations of his philosophy and outlooks. The film fittingly shows how his life events inspired the writings that came out of them, again drawing upon the sense of inherent connection that was such an important theme in his writing and thinking. Intercut with this narrative are additional insights drawn from interviews with authors, historians, professors, Thoreau scholars and staff from the Walden legacy sites. In addition, the film includes commentary from those who have been inspired by Thoreau, including students who participate in educational programs based on his works and philosophy. In all, director Huey (a.k.a. James Coleman) has compiled a fascinating, comprehensive piece that could easily be considered the quintessential Thoreau biography. For those who want to know more about the enigmatic author, this is definitely the film to see.

Socrates famously observed that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” a contention with which many of us would probably agree. But this need not be the case; with a little effort and guidance, it’s possible to conduct such an introspective review, and the advice Thoreau offered in this regard is as good a starting point as any. “Surveyor of the Soul” makes this process even easier, offering viewers an inclusive overview, one that can help the curious successfully launch their forays into the life examined. And, given what might come out of such an undertaking, it’s a pretty safe bet that Thoreau would likely approve.

Copyright @ 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

‘Hearts Beat Loud’ joyfully celebrates creativity, choice

“Hearts Beat Loud” (2018). Cast: Nick Offerman, Kiersey Clemons, Ted Danson, Blythe Danner, Toni Collette, Sasha Lane, Quincy Dunn-Baker. Director: Brett Haley. Screenplay: Brett Haley and Marc Basch. Web site. Trailer.

Following our passion is something most of us dream about. But how many of us are able to see it through? Unfortunately, life often seems to get in the way. And sometimes we get in our own way, too. Clearing away the clutter, making a plan and working up the gumption to move forward all factor into the process, but how adept are we at these tasks? These are some of the challenges that a pair of would-be professional musicians face in the heartfelt new comedy-drama, “Hearts Beat Loud.”

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman) is restless. A onetime musician who’s now approaching middle age, Frank spends his days running a vintage vinyl store in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, a business that’s slowly going under, something that he’s not entirely sorry to see. While Frank definitely possesses an encyclopedic knowledge about records of every stripe, he nevertheless itches to make music of his own again. Thankfully, he’s got an outlet for that with his teenage daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), a bright, talented musician in her own right. Like a kid on Christmas morning, he gleefully looks forward to their jam sessions together.

But, despite the joy and fulfillment these sessions provide, as soon as they’re over, Frank quickly feels the weight of reality crashing down on him. For instance, as talented as Sam is musically, she has her heart set on attending UCLA, where she’s been accepted into the pre-med program. Frank can’t help but wonder whether she’s tossing her talents aside (not to mention the fact that he feels her decision to leave him behind is like someone stealing his favorite toy). And, if that weren’t bad enough, he also has to contend with the responsibilities of being a single parent, caring for an aging mother (Blythe Danner) with a penchant for shoplifting and winding up the affairs of a failing business.

To cope, Frank seeks solace at the neighborhood tavern, bouncing ideas off the resident bartender, Dave (Ted Danson), a quirky, carefree sort with a unique wisdom. He also enjoys spending time with Leslie (Toni Collette), the landlady who owns his storefront property, a kind-hearted soul who seems to have his best interests at heart, even though the exact nature of their relationship is somewhat ambiguous. But, such support aside, Frank still spends much of his time trying to figure out things on his own.

In many ways, Sam is just as perplexed as her dad. She believes UCLA is her destiny. But, in the weeks leading up to her departure for school, the waters become muddied, especially when she and Frank record a song that makes its way to Spotify and starts drawing attention from fans and music industry professionals. Her heart strings also get sufficiently tugged when she meets and falls for a new romantic interest, Rose (Sasha Lane). As time grows short, she’s faced with the dilemma musically immortalized by the Clash, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go.”

Frank Fisher (Nick Offerman, left) and his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons, right), make great music together in the feel good new comedy-drama, “Hearts Beat Loud.” Photo courtesy of Gunpowder & Sky.[/caption]

Through the experiences of Frank and Sam, viewers witness the hard choices that artists of all kinds must address in developing their careers: How hungry are we? Are we truly willing to make an all-out effort to pursue our craft? Or are we going to let other interests and everyday considerations get in the way, potentially derailing our shot at artistic success? “Hearts Beat Loud” examines what it means to wrestle with these ideas. The choices involved in these decisions may not be easy ones, but the power to make them is clearly in our hands, and that’s something we must never lose sight of.

Choice, of course, is a crucial consideration in making use of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, given the circumstances of the two protagonists, choice is something they’re far from wanting. Each of them has a number of options to examine, each of which is viable in its own right. But which ones are the best for them? That depends on the beliefs Frank and Sam hold and what they hope to realize from those choices.

Fortunately, Frank and Sam are each astute enough to recognize their various options, a testament to their ability to see past accepted limitations, one of the greatest hindrances to the formation of truly creative manifesting beliefs. For instance, while Frank makes plans to close down his business, he’s offered an unexpected option to keep it open. Even though the specifics of the option didn’t originate with him, on some level, he put out a belief to make this outcome possible, a gesture that subsequently drew it to him. Whether or not he embraces the idea again comes back to the concept of choice, but, whatever he decides, the outcome stems from the beliefs he holds and what he considers to be the best prospect for him.

An element that plays an important role in any of these decisions is facing and getting past our personal fears, for they hold us back and keep our manifesting beliefs from activating. As a type of belief in themselves, fears often materialize as the absence of what we’re supposedly seeking to achieve. This illustrates their importance to the functionality and effectiveness of the conscious creation process. If we’re unable to get past them, we won’t be able to manifest what we believe we want.

This is a particularly important concern for Sam. Does she have enough confidence in herself to pursue a musical career? But what if it doesn’t work out – will this be a mistake not only in itself but also as one that potentially derails her shot at becoming a doctor? Such fear-based considerations are potentially paralyzing from a belief standpoint. In extreme cases, they may even prevent us from making decisions at all, leaving us with nothing. This is why it’s so crucial to dispense with these concerns as conscious creation practitioners. Life, choice and creativity all involve a certain inherent amount of risk, but, if we’re unwilling to address it, we may find ourselves filled with regret when we end up empty-handed.

One way to counter this consideration is to trust our intuition. It’s one of the key components that helps us aid the formation of our beliefs, if only we’ll heed what it has to say. Frequently we dismiss its impact, because it’s seen as illogical and irrational. Yet, as we often find out, it serves us well and proves to be right on target. And it’s not as if Frank and Sam don’t have any experience with it, either. When they write their songs, for example, it’s obvious that their ideas come to them from a source other than intellect, and they never question this inspiration. If they were to apply this same principle to their other pursuits, they just might find that it brings them satisfaction on a variety of fronts. And that kind of ongoing success is surely something that will make their hearts beat loud.

Director Brett Haley’s touching, fun-filled feel good movie genuinely inspires the artist within each of us. By no means does it sugarcoat what’s involved in pursuing such dreams, but its uplifting outlook and joyful approach to its subject matter definitely fill us with a desire to make the effort at realizing our aspirations. Offerman and Clemons have a great chemistry together, coming across as totally natural and convincing, not just in their character portrayals but also in their fine musical performances. Admittedly, some aspects of the story aren’t as fully developed as they might have been, but that’s a rather small shortcoming in light of everything else this delightful independent release has to offer.

Reaching for the top can be quite an undertaking, one filled with a curious mix of excitement and trepidation. But, when one considers the rewards, both creatively and otherwise, it’s hard to imagine not taking the chance to see it realized. Thankfully, “Hearts Beat Loud” provides a thorough, honest and entertaining take on what it’s like to pursue one’s own artistic odyssey.  Rock on, everybody!

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Check out

As an entrant in the 2018 Best Book Awards competition, I'm pleased to announce that my latest title, Third Real: Conscious Creation Goes Back to the Movies, is now listed in the New Age Non-Fiction section of the web site! The listing includes the book's cover and description, as well as a link to the title's listing on This post will be available for the next five months until the announcement of the winners in November. Wish me luck! In the meantime, check out the listing by clicking here.

Monday, June 18, 2018

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Won't You Be My Neighbor?", "I Am Somebody" and "Mountain" are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the web site of The Good Media Network,  available by clicking here.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

‘Neighbor’ showcases the spirit of kindness and compassion

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (2018). Cast: Interview Footage: Joanne Rogers, James Rogers, John Rogers, François Scarborough Clemmons, Yo-Yo Ma, Elizabeth Seamans, Margy Whitmer, Davis Newell, Joe Negri. Archive Footage: Fred Rogers, Robert Kennedy, Tom Snyder, Christa McAuliffe, John O. Pastore, Betty Aberlin. Director: Morgan Neville. Web site. Trailer.

Showing a little kindness goes a long way, especially to those in need of compassion, nurturing and support. This is particularly true when it comes to young ones, who often struggle with the fundamental task of trying to understand how the world works, an increasingly challenging task in an ever-more complicated reality. For 30 years, an unlikely television personality undertook that very task, giving attention, encouragement, wisdom and support to those who all too frequently went overlooked by their preoccupied, impatient and even unconcerned elders. And now the many quiet but profound accomplishments of that soft-spoken, cardigan-clad TV icon are celebrated in the endearing new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”

In many respects, Fred Rogers (1928-2003) was probably the last person anyone would see as a television star. By all rights, most programmers probably would have seen the gentle-mannered everyman who spoke in deliberate, measured tones as their least likely casting choice for hosting a TV program. But, given what Rogers set out to do, there was no one more suited to the job. And, through his long-running PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, he made the most of his opportunity. With a mix of lovable puppets, a company of friendly “neighborhood residents” and even some big-name guest stars like cellist Yo-Yo Ma, all of whom engaged with the host in thoughtful conversations and sweet, charming songs, Rogers carefully crafted a program that grew from a local Pittsburgh production into a national sensation.

Children’s television icon Fred Rogers, host of the PBS series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, on the set of his long-running show, as seen in director Morgan Neville’s endearing new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Photo by Jim Judkis, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]

Rogers, who actively sought to spread the word to younger audiences about such concepts as kindness, acceptance and understanding, had just the right mix of qualities that small children could readily and comfortably relate to. As an ordained minister, he had an approachable demeanor that enabled him to effectively convey the importance and relevance of such humane values, but he never preached nor infused his teachings with religious dogma. In many ways, he communicated to his constituency of little ones on their own level, something that made him a big hit with the preschool and kindergarten crowd.

Ironically, Rogers disliked much of what was on television, especially for children. He believed that programmers were doing a major disservice to this audience by endlessly broadcasting inane shows filled with silly, slapstick humor that comically but inherently celebrated violence, bullying, humiliation and other undesirable values. He was convinced that the medium could be used more effectively, that it could serve as a positive influence to youngsters in their formative years by presenting programs that taught valuable life lessons and encouraged them to embrace qualities that would eventually make them better adults.

In pursuing this goal, however, Rogers didn’t believe in sugarcoating everything. When the show debuted in 1968, the world was experiencing considerable turmoil, such as the Vietnam War and the assassination of Presidential hopeful Robert Kennedy, events that undoubtedly bewildered many of the nation’s youth. But, rather than shelter children from these unpleasant realities, Rogers tackled them head on, addressing them thoughtfully in ways that kids could understand. He did the same when it came to exploring such issues as divorce, illness, racial strife and death, usually by discussing the subjects in ways that stressed qualities like compassion and tolerance. The hope here was that he could impart realistic but  considerate attitudes about these aspects of life, unpleasant though inescapable as they may be.

Fred Rogers, host of the long-running PBS children’s series Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, poses with one of his beloved puppets, Daniel Tiger, in the new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Photo by The Fred Rogers Company, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]

In this sense, as series regular Elizabeth Seamans and producer Margy Whitmer observe in the film, Rogers was quite innovative, if not radical, in his approach. His material may have been dressed up in a pleasant, safe, accessible package, but his show’s content was far different from much of the other children’s programming of the day, something that quietly but profoundly set the program apart.

Rogers didn’t focus only on children’s issues, though; he had his share of dealings with grown-ups as well. For instance, he hosted two seasons of a documentary series called Old Friends…New Friends in which he interviewed celebrities like Milton Berle and Helen Hayes, taking an approach where he would try to engage in the same kind of thoughtful, meaningful conversation with adults that he did with his younger audiences. He also regularly appeared as himself on TV talk shows like those hosted by Tom Snyder. And, as a passionate advocate for government funding of pubic television, he testified before Congressional committees to make the case for his cause, convincingly enough to change the mind of hardened skeptic Senator John O. Pastore, who was all but ready to see the proposed subsidy summarily scrapped.

Children’s television icon Fred Rogers (right), longtime host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, meets with a young disabled boy, as seen in the endearing new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Photo by Jim Judkis, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]

Through his efforts, Rogers truly was a pioneer in children’s television programming. Were it not for his vision, there may not have been the show that he created and the many others that have followed in its wake, such as Sesame Street and The Electric Company. Thanks to someone who believed in the idea that a medium as powerful as TV could indeed do better, we’ve been able to see that notion come into reality. And, given the current state of television, we could certainly use a lot more visionaries like Fred Rogers these days.

Of course, none of this would have happened were it not for Rogers’s command of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Even if he had never heard of this philosophy, he certainly had a mastery of its principles, and that’s apparent in what he so successfully materialized. And, at that core of that success is the firm grasp he had on his beliefs, those metaphysical building blocks that led to the creation he produced.

As noted earlier, Rogers firmly believed that children’s television could improve upon what it was producing at the time he was breaking into the business. His faith in that belief was indeed strong, and that helped make the realization of his goal possible. Perhaps that faith in what he sought to manifest was an outgrowth of his ministerial calling, an attribute that strengthened his resolve and made the possibility of reaching his goal that much more likely. Were we to apply that same kind of conviction toward our aspirations, drawing from Rogers’s example, we all might be able to achieve more of what we seek to accomplish.

Children’s television icon Fred Rogers (left), longtime host of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, shares a moment to cool down on a hot summer day in the neighborhood with series regular Officer Clemmons (François Scarborough Clemmons, right), as seen in director Morgan Neville’s new documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Photo by John Beale, courtesy of Focus Features.[/caption]

A large part of Rogers’s success came from his ability to envision possibilities that go beyond the conventional. By considering different options and surpassing established and supposedly accepted limitations, he was able to come up with conceptions not previously thought of, let alone attempted. Those who adhered to an innately narrower view, with a much more restricted belief palette, for example, may never have been able to come up with the inventive approaches Rogers did for addressing sensitive or difficult subjects in ways that children with their less worldly ways could understand. But it happened because, on some level, Rogers believed it could be done and brought into being. Again, if we were to adopt such an outlook for ourselves, there’s no telling what we might attain.

It’s indeed fortunate that Rogers focused his efforts on childhood development. As many in the metaphysical community are well aware, we, as human beings, tend to be most open to possibilities when we’re in our youth. Unfortunately, too many inquisitive, impressionable minds get shut down early on in life through the often-coerced imposition of limiting beliefs, perspectives that prevent the flowering of their potential. Through his programming, Rogers sought to counter that regrettable practice, encouraging his young viewers to keep those minds open at a time when they’re already the most receptive to inspiring input. In a world beset by as many challenges as we face these days, we can use as many open minds as we can find. And, to that end, we can also use as many Mr. Rogers as we can find as well.

While there’s a slight tendency toward “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” being somewhat saccharine encrusted, and despite some slightly sluggish pacing in the first 30 minutes, the film comes through successfully on all fronts, effectively delivering its contents with ample humor, surprising candor and many heartwarming moments. The archive footage featuring interviews with Rogers and footage from his shows reveal the deceptively profound approach he employed and the  many sides of the protagonist, including some very different from the nice but nerdy persona for which he’s probably best known. Recent interviews with Rogers’s wife, children, friends and collaborators provide additional insights into the man and his motivations. In all, director Morgan Neville has compiled a documentary well worth your time, again revealing this filmmaker to be one of the best when it comes to this genre.

Given the pressures of today’s world, it’s easy to lose our composure and abandon our civility. Under conditions like this, we could all use some kind words and a little comforting to cope with the strife and challenges we face. And that’s where the wit and wisdom of Fred Rogers can do us all a world of good, especially if all of us ultimately hope to create a good world.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.


Monday, June 11, 2018

Check out Writers Assembled!

I'm thrilled to announce that I'm this week's Featured Author on the Member Profile feature of the Writers Assembled Facebook group. Throughout the week (Monday through Saturday), I'll be addressing questions posed by the group regarding my work, my writing process and other topics. If you're a fellow writer, a fan or someone who's interested in my work and the method to my madness, check it out!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

‘Book Club’ celebrates second chances at love

“Book Club” (2018). Cast: Diane Keaton, Jane Fonda, Candice Bergen, Mary Steenburgen, Andy Garcia, Craig T. Nelson, Don Johnson, Richard Dreyfuss, Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton, Wallace Shawn, Ed Begley Jr., Mircea Monroe, Joey Stromberg, Sabrina Friedman-Seitz. Director: Bill Holderman. Screenplay: Bill Holderman and Erin Simms. Web site. Trailer.

As the years pass by, it can be easy to let our lives (and ourselves) slide. Those of us who have attained a certain age may unwittingly fall into the trap of believing that the best years are behind us, that the joys of our youth and young adulthood are no longer available or take too much effort to recapture. This is especially true when it comes to our love lives. But is that really the case? It might take a little initiative to get back what’s been lost, but it is indeed possible – and worth it – as a quartet of seniors discover for themselves in the new romantic comedy, “Book Club.”

Longtime friends Diane (Diane Keaton, left), Sharon (Candice Bergen, second from left), Vivian (Jane Fonda, second from right) and Carol (Mary Steenburgen, right) get together every month to enjoy great works of literature, such as E.L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey, in the new romantic comedy, “Book Club.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

When four friends form a book club, who thought they’d still be meeting 40 years later? But so it is with Diane (Diane Keaton), Sharon (Candice Bergen), Carol (Mary Steenburgen) and Vivian (Jane Fonda). The vibrant, spry seniors are all going strong in their lives except in one very important area – the romance department. But, then, each of them has her own challenges:

  • Diane was married for decades and became the proud mother of two (Alicia Silverstone, Katie Aselton). But, with the death of her husband a year ago, she now faces a somewhat uncertain future. Her overprotective daughters want her to relocate from her home in southern California to a retirement community near them in Arizona, but she has reservations about leaving her friends behind. And, even though she’s available again, dating is the last thing on her mind, especially with her kids meddling in seemingly every aspect of her life.

  • Sharon was happily married (or so she thought) for many years. But, when her husband, Tom (Ed Begley Jr.), left her for a younger woman (Mircea Monroe), Sharon’s love life came to an abrupt halt. Even though she got divorced and felt nothing but animosity toward her ex, she couldn’t get past her anger and refused to move forward, a struggle that’s been going on for 20 years. She threw herself into her work as a federal judge and never gave romance a second thought.

  • As the owner of a successful upscale restaurant, Carol loves her work. She also loves her husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson), who recently retired. With more free time to spend with one another, she had great hopes for reinvigorating their relationship. That expectation hasn’t panned out, however, as things have turned rather humdrum, especially in the bedroom. Carol drops more than her share of hints about spicing up their love life, but Bruce is either unaware or uninterested in her advances. What’s a frisky wife to do?

  • Free-spirited Vivian has always been hard to pin down, especially where relationships are concerned. As a successful hotelier, she’s been far too focused on building her career and business to think about getting involved. She even turned down a proposal from an old flame, Arthur (Don Johnson). Her attitude didn’t keep her from having a robust sex life, but she never saw herself as the marrying type. However, now that she’s getting on in years, does she still want to be on her own, unhindered but nevertheless alone?

Diane (Diane Keaton, left), widowed after a long marriage, rediscovers the joys of dating when she meets a sexy pilot, Mitchell (Andy Garcia, right), in the new romantic comedy, “Book Club.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

Realizing these predicaments, Vivian decides to do something about it. When it’s her turn to choose a book for the club to read, she decides to shake things up by selecting Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. If that saucy tale of sexual escapades doesn’t get the girls stoked up once again, she reasons, nothing will.

When Vivian announces her selection at a club meeting, her cohorts resist the idea. Given the book’s tawdry reputation and the respectable menu of titles they’ve read over the years, the other club members can’t see themselves perusing the pages of something as pulpy as the steamy best-seller. But, after they begin reading, they become unexpectedly captivated. What’s more, they find themselves inspired, prompting them to begin acting on their impulses – and their hormones – to get funky once again:
  • Through a chance meeting on a flight to visit her daughters, Diane befriends a sexy pilot, Mitchell (Andy Garcia). Before long, she gets to find out just how friendly the skies can be.

  • After working up the nerve to try her hand at online dating, Sharon launches into an unexpectedly frisky relationship with a tax attorney, George (Richard Dreyfuss). In no time she’s banging things other than her gavel.

  • With a little trial and error, Carol finds ways to perk up her husband. Her timing isn’t always the most opportune, but she gets results that get noticed (even if they’re noticed by the wrong parties).

  • And, much to her surprise, Vivian find herself on the verge of getting serious about someone – Arthur, whom she runs into unexpectedly in the lobby of her hotel. Will she rediscover what she passed up years ago?

Successful hotelier Vivian (Jane Fonda, right) rekindles her romance with an old flame, Arthur (Don Johnson, left), in filmmaker Bill Holderman’s directorial debut, “Book Club.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

So what accounts for this change? It comes down to a matter of beliefs, the stuff of which our reality is made, thanks to the conscious creation process, the means by which those metaphysical building blocks are transformed from intangible ideas into manifested conceptions. And, specifically, it’s the changes in the women’s beliefs that bring out their new realities. Several factors figure into this.

For starters, Diane, Sharon, Carol and Vivian all realize that they’re not stuck with their circumstances; they have the powers of choice and free will at their disposal, and, should they opt to make use of them, they can re-create their existences in any way they like. However, they have to take the first step to make that happen. This can come about in a variety of ways, but, as with most of us, they must first grow so dissatisfied with their realities that they desire something new to take their place. But, also like many of us, they need some kind of catalytic inspiration to get their visionary juices flowing, and that’s where E.L. James comes in.

To bring about the change they want, the women must address the specific beliefs that are keeping them locked in place. Essentially they need to move beyond whatever is inhibiting them. Some may seem them, kindly, as apprehensions; others may view them, somewhat less delicately, as excuses. But, no matter what anyone calls them, at their heart, the beliefs that are holding them back are fundamentally limitations, and it’s those limitations that must be overcome if they want something new in their lives.

Restaurateur Carol (Mary Steenburgen, left) looks for ways to spice up her love life with her recently retired husband, Bruce (Craig T. Nelson, right), in the new romantic comedy, “Book Club.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

Each of the women has her own limitations to get past, and addressing the specific self-imposed roadblocks they’ve set up for themselves is crucial to moving beyond them:
  • Diane has more than her share of doubts – doubts about herself, her future, what she wants out of life and, most of all, a romantic life. If she can’t get past this, nothing will materialize, because our divine collaborator in the conscious creation process is unable to accommodate such conflicting intentions. After all, how can an entity capable of manifesting any wish do so if we doubt its ability to comply? It’s like saying “I want it, but I don’t believe you can give it to me” simultaneously.

  • Sharon’s plagued by a combination of doubt and fear, a double whammy when it comes to undercutting the effectiveness of the conscious creation process. Since her marriage ended, she doubts that she’ll find happiness again, especially since she’s now unsure that she ever found it the first time around. This makes her reluctant, if not downright fearful, of trying again, because she doesn’t want to repeat what she sees as a mistake. However, if she also realizes what she’s learned from her first experience, she can move forward by putting beliefs into place that rule out those unfortunate possibilities from manifesting a second time.

  • Even though Carol hopes for more fun-filled times now that Bruce is retired, on a deeper level, what’s really driving her motivations is a fear of losing the happiness she enjoys with her husband – if not the marriage itself. To compensate for that, she believes she needs to try extra hard to hold on to what she’s got. That may appear noble and committed, but it’s underpinned by a sense of desperation, a fear-driven attitude if there ever were one. This is a practice sometimes referred to as pushing the Universe, a practice where we try cajoling our divine collaborator into cooperation (or, more precisely, submission). Unfortunately, since fear is at the heart of this practice, it seldom works, bringing us distorted results, as Carol routinely finds out. To attain the outcome she wants, she needs to lose the fear and adopt beliefs aimed at bringing her what she wants without having to employ desperation in doing so.

  • Fear is also at the heart of Vivian’s issues, specifically a fear of losing her sense of independence. She enjoys being her own person and is not anxious to compromise herself on this point, even if it means intentionally and steadfastly remaining single. But are independence and being partnered mutually exclusive? Perhaps it’s possible to embrace beliefs that accommodate both. In fact, maybe there are men out there who are attracted to women who are assertive, strong-willed and in charge of their destinies. Maybe Vivian should try implementing beliefs that embody such notions; she might be very pleasantly surprised by the results.

Themes like these have become quite common in movies these days, but they seem especially pertinent for this band of characters (and the demographic to which this movie appeals). As we age, unfortunately, we tend to grow less flexible in out outlooks, a perspective that can significantly inhibit our enjoyment of life and our prospects for the future. That’s important to bear in mind for seniors. They must ask themselves, “With the clock running out, how long are we going to wait?” In that light, then, this film offers those who are a little on in years a potent cautionary tale, especially for those who’ve lost their ambition or expectations of anything better coming along. By simply asking “Why not?” rather than perpetually defaulting to “Why should I?”, they may find some exceedingly pleasant surprises in store.

Divorcee Sharon (Candice Bergen, right) takes a chance on romance with George (Richard Dreyfuss, left) thanks to an online dating site in “Book Club.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.[/caption]

In a world that worships youthfulness and all too readily shuttles the mature set out to pasture, it’s refreshing to see a story like this. It celebrates aging and demonstrates that it needn’t be looked upon as a time of life characterized by bland food, mahjong tournaments and lonely evenings in front of the TV with the volume turned up high. It truly can mean a fresh start, one full of vibrancy, engagement and maybe even a little naughty behavior. Indeed, this film shows that it’s never too late to have fun and enjoy life, no matter what ad agencies, social media and allegedly in-the-know trend influencers might say.

Put simply, “Book Club” is a real joy. What a treat it is to see a quartet of veteran performers doing what they do best and quite obviously enjoying themselves at it! This light, frothy, albeit somewhat predictable chick flick for the mature set clearly has its heart in the right place and hits the right notes most of the time. Granted, some of the jokes don’t land as solidly as they could, particularly in the first 30 minutes, and some of the humor is a little on the trite side. But, all things considered, this is still one fine diversion, full of fun, full of spirit and full of life, especially for those who can appreciate where its protagonists are coming from and are in need of a few good laughs.

As the years pile up, it’s all too convenient – and perhaps even a little tempting – to grow complacent and settled, stuck in a rut of our own making. We can slip into it so casually that we might not even realize we’ve done so until we’re in the throes of it. But the examples in this film show what it means to come alive again, to rejoin those who enjoy life. And to think it can all start with something as simple as picking up a book – or watching a movie.

Copyright © 2018, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.