Tuesday, August 23, 2016

‘Flowers’ celebrates empathy, kindness

“Flowers” (“Loreak”) (2014 production, 2015 release). Cast: Itziar Ituño, Nagore Aranburu, Itziar Aizpuru, Josean Bengoetxea, Egoitz Lasa, Ane Gabarain, José Ramón Soroiz, Jox Berasategui, Mikel Laskurain, Aitor Odriozola, Unax Odriozola. Directors: Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga. Screenplay: Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño and Jose Mari Goenaga. Web site. Trailer.

In a world filled with coldness and cynicism, acts of unsolicited kindness have, unfortunately, come to be seen by many as anomalous gestures, deeds almost to be viewed with suspicion. It’s truly sad that we’ve reached such a point, one where we question the sincere altruism of others, convinced that there must be an agenda behind those actions. But need it be that way? That’s one of the key questions posed in the meditative Spanish drama, “Flowers” (“Loreak”), now available on video on demand.

When Ane Goñi (Nagore Aranburu) starts receiving weekly floral deliveries from an anonymous source, she’s perplexed but pleased. Given the personal rough patch she’s going through, brought on by early onset menopause and the general indifference of her husband, Ander (Egoitz Lasa), she’s happy to benefit from the joy the flowers bring her. Still, she’s curious to find out who’s sending them, especially when she learns it’s not from Ander, who himself is somewhat indignant that a stranger is showing his wife such attention.

Not long thereafter, however, the flower deliveries inexplicably stop. Curiously, this development, along with several other surprise revelations, coincide with the accidental death of a co-worker, Beñat Sanz (Josean Bengoetxea), whom she barely knew. Could he have been the source of the flowers? But, if so, why? After all, Beñat seems to have had enough problems of his own, trapped in a marriage to an often-agitated wife, Lourdes (Itziar Ituño), who frequently quarreled with his mother, Tere (Itziar Aizpuru), leaving him haplessly caught between the two.

After investigating matters further, Ane comes to believe that Beñat was indeed responsible for the flowers, and she’s now anxious to return the favor by leaving bouquets as a sort of makeshift memorial at the site of the car accident that killed him. She then finds herself befriending members of Beñat’s family, except, of course, for Lourdes, who can’t fathom why anyone would engage in such selfless gestures toward her deceased husband and his relatives – especially when she can’t bring herself to do the same.

Ane Goñi (Nagore Aranburu), who once received flower deliveries from an anonymous source to cheer her up, returns the favor to honor the memory of the person she believed sent them, acts of kindness depicted in the thoughtful meditation, “Flowers” (“Loreak”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Acts as simple as sending flowers and extending common courtesies might not seem like much, but they serve as catalysts to help awaken emotions long dormant in many of us. They illustrate what it means to be kind to someone else, even if we don’t know them, just because it’s the right thing to do. They’re not actions to be questioned or looked upon with circumspection; they’re to be recognized and celebrated for what they are – gestures of goodwill, well-being and thoughtfulness.

So how is it that we have become so far removed from such attitudes? That’s difficult to say, but it’s unlikely that it was the result of a single individual act. Rather, it came about as a sea change in the mass consciousness, one that has subsequently manifested extensively as a result of a co-creation produced through the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. And, given how widespread it has become, it’s unfortunate that this outlook has blinded us to the way things can be, so much so that we don’t even recognize those gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness for what they really are.

Allowing ourselves to buy into such beliefs can take on a life of its own, spreading like a virus. But it’s far from irreversible. Antidotes to such beliefs and creations can take root just as readily as those suspicious attitudes have; all we need do is invoke them. Envisioning the outcome and deploying beliefs to make them happen are what it takes, and, if enough of us do that, the practice can spread through the mass consciousness, becoming a co-creation that’s part of the prevailing culture.

Sounds like a good idea, doesn’t it? Imagine what the world could be like with such attitudes characterizing the present paradigm. This film challenges and inspires us to produce such a result – and to see just how beautiful and endearing it can be. We could all learn a lot from the acts of unprompted kindness and generosity on display here.

Lourdes Sanz (Itziar Ituño), who loses her husband in a car accident, has trouble relating to his death and the survivors of his family in the compelling drama, “Flowers” (“Loreak”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Of course, a picture like this naturally begs the question, “How did we go astray in the first place?” As the experiences of the characters illustrate, sometimes we create chaos, heartache and despair in our lives (generally as part of our individual learning curves, even if we don’t recognize such developments as such). These incidents, in turn, often lead to responses where we become sad or embittered, perhaps even causing us to lose our faith in the world, including its positive and empathetic attributes. This leads to cynicism and suspicion, particularly when we encounter others who exhibit behavior that runs counter to our expectations. In those situations, we seldom know how to react, because those gestures don’t fit out worldview. We may be fundamentally incapable of comprehending how others can possibly act in such ways.

At the same time, though, those gestures can also serve as a starting point for turning things around. When we witness or are the beneficiaries of such acts, our beliefs may begin to change. They might even encourage us to respond in kind when we encounter others in need of such support. If enough of us do that, the idea may spread like wildfire, infusing itself into the culture of the prevailing paradigm, perhaps even changing the world. And to think it can all start with something as simple as sending someone a bouquet of flowers.

“Flowers” is a gem of a film, one that may be a little difficult to find but one that’s well worth the effort. This Basque language picture features gorgeous cinematography, an intriguing story line that will keep viewers continually guessing and an excellent cast, many of whom deliver what should have been award-worthy performances (especially Ituño and Aizpuru). But, most of all, the empathy this thoughtful picture evokes, one would hope, should inspire us all.

Tere Sanz (Itziar Aizpuru), who loses her son in a car accident, has trouble understanding her daughter-in-law’s lack of compassion over her loss in the thoughtful Spanish drama, “Flowers” (“Loreak”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Changing the world doesn’t always require massive undertakings. Sometimes the process can begin with simple acts whose impact ripples like waves in a pond. The result may not be instantaneous, but the eventual outcome is almost assuredly undeniable. And what a beautiful creation that would be.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Tune in to Self-Discovery Radio

Join me and host Sara Troy on this week's edition of Self-Discovery Radio, when we'll discuss Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies. Tune in for some lively chat about current and past movies with conscious creation/law of attraction themes by clicking here. And be sure to visit the show's bookstore, available by clicking here.

Friday, August 19, 2016

‘Remember’ seeks to distinguish justice from vengeance

“Remember” (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Christopher Plummer. Martin Landau, Bruno Ganz, Dean Norris, Jürgen Prochnow, Heinz Lieven, Henry Czerny, Liza Balkan, Peter DeCunha, James Cade, Sofia Wells, Jane Spidell, Stefani Kimber. Director: Atom Egoyan. Screenplay: Benjamin August. Web site. Trailer.

When does the cause of justice cross the line into the pursuit of vengeance? Even if the outcome in both instances turns out to be the same, doesn’t the intent leading to such a result make a difference? Those are thorny issues, to be sure, and they come center stage in the gripping suspense thriller, “Remember,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

Zev Guttman (Christopher Plummer) and Max Rosenbaum (Martin Landau) have much in common. The two octogenarians knew one another while incarcerated in Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp, where they both lost their entire families. But, despite the horrors of this shared experience, Zev and Max managed to survive, eventually emigrating to America to build new lives. And now, all these years later, their respective odysseys have led them to become residents of the same New York City nursing home.

Even though Max’s advanced years have plundered him physically, he’s still as sharp as ever mentally. Zev, meanwhile, is remarkably fit for his age, but the ravages of dementia have left him with severe memory loss issues – so devastating, in fact, that he can’t even remember the recent passage of his wife, Ruth. Given their conditions and histories, one might think Max and Zev would be content to live out their days in peace. But, unbeknownst to their friends and loved ones, some serious scheming is afoot, highly clandestine plans with tremendous potential for danger and manipulation. These plans carry serious risks for both men, too, but it’s especially perilous for Zev considering his fragile mental state.

Not long after Ruth’s shiva ends, Max calls his friend aside to remind him of the plan they had agreed to carry out once Zev’s beloved had passed. In a detailed set of written instructions – prepared so that Zev would never forget them – Max outlines their crusade to hunt down the blockführer responsible for the deaths of their families in Auschwitz.

Having worked with Simon Wiesenthal, the famed hunter of escaped Nazis, Max became aware that a number of fugitive war criminals evaded capture by adopting new identities (usually those of their Jewish victims) and quietly fleeing to America. For years, Max firmly supported Wiesenthal’s belief that such heinous offenders deserved to be put on trial in high-profile public proceedings in an aim to seek justice. But, after Wiesenthal’s death in 2005, and given the advancing age of the remaining fugitives (many of whom probably wouldn’t be physically able to undergo extradition and the rigors of formal proceedings), Max has since come to believe in taking more direct action – summarily eradicating the guilty, convinced that they would almost assuredly befall the same fate they would experience as a result of a trial verdict.

Max is certain that the guilty party, Otto Wallisch, took the name Rudy Kurlander at war’s end. But the problem with tracking down Kurlander is that, apparently, four individuals in the US and Canada bear the same name. So who is the bona fide target? That’s what Zev must find out, and that’s where the detailed instructions come in. They’re so meticulously prepared that they make allowances for contingencies, giving Zev details about what to do if he should encounter the wrong individual while carrying out the plan.

One might question why someone with dementia would be tapped for a task like this. However, considering Zev’s history and his mental state, Max sees him as the perfect choice, a sort of “Manchurian Candidate” with an apparent motivation for seeking revenge who can be prompted into carrying out his instructions without the “liability” of remembering what he did (or who put him up to it). And so, with his instructions in hand, Zev sets off on a journey spanning two countries in search of the man he’s been instructed to kill, even if he’s not sure of what he’s doing – or why he’s doing it.

The narrative of “Remember” brings the matter of our beliefs – the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the conscious creation process – front and center. Much of the time, our beliefs operate in the background, materializing our existence without much awareness on our part. Admittedly, this can be somewhat problematic in itself, leading to such precarious pursuits as un-conscious creation or creation by default, practices in direct conflict with the aim of making the manifestation process more intentionally “conscious.” However, should we manage to become more purposely aware of our beliefs and what they yield, we have a greater opportunity to realize exactly what we envision.

In Max’s case, though, such heightened, deliberate awareness would appear to be directed toward the fulfillment of a somewhat questionable goal. While conscious creation indeed makes all options for manifestation possible, for better or worse, it’s still incumbent upon each of us to scrutinize the beliefs we employ, especially with regard to what we intend them to materialize. That’s certainly true where Max’s plan is concerned, partly because of its outcome and partly because of the methods being used to achieve it.

Then there’s Zev’s role in this scenario. Why is he involved? Is his belief in revenge the principal motivation here? Superficially speaking, some might say yes, but, given his personality – very much that of a kindly, grandfatherly sort – and his actions – which seem to be dictated purely by his written instructions and not any volition of his own – he hardly seems like a crusading vigilante type. In fact, given his mental state, he seems to require nearly constant reminding to keep him on track, not the kind of behavior one would readily associate with somebody hell-bent on exacting vengeance.

More importantly, given Zev’s dementia, one might legitimately wonder why he would create such a condition in the first place. Is it to forget a painful past? Is it to disavow the sadness of recent events? Is it to dull his senses to the acts he’s about to perform? Is it a combination of these elements? Or is it something else entirely? That’s something Zev must come to terms with for himself, no matter how difficult or perplexing it may be.

For Zev and Max, just like any of us, getting to the bottom of the beliefs that create our reality requires us to take a look at what prompted their formation, namely, the input provided by our intellect and intuition and how much stock we place in that information. In Max’s case, for example, he’s certain about the course he’s pursuing, and he’s comfortable with what he’s seeking to manifest, no matter how others might see it. But what makes him so sure of himself? From a conscious creation perspective, it would seem that he’s exceedingly confident in the validity of the input that led to the formation of those underlying beliefs, even if he doesn’t share his insights into what has prompted him to think this way. And, when someone is that self-assured about what they’re doing, they just might know something the rest of us don’t.

This naturally raises issues about judgment. The beliefs that many of us hold about justice and vengeance may cause us to look at Max’s plan with skepticism, perhaps even disdain. But are those contrary views necessarily correct? One of the chief aims of the conscious creation process is to reveal the truth, and, if someone is so set on achieving a particular objective, as Max is, then maybe there are significant revelations that need to emerge through its materialization. Should someone like that be proven correct, that, in turn, should give us pause to reassess our own beliefs, particularly any associated with judgment. We may find our assumptions, and the beliefs behind them, are not as fully informed as they need to be.

Revelations like this frequently lead to the vanquishing of such conditions as blind ignorance and entrenched denial. That, in itself, can be viewed as a worthwhile goal, even if the means for achieving it (and the beliefs underlying it) might be considered somewhat dubious. Again, this is where a rush to judgment may prove problematic until everything comes out. And, at that point, matters could very well be seen in an entirely new light.

Even with what many would see as a rightful justification for their actions, can the vengeance Max and Zev seek be sanctioned? Most would likely say no, even under these circumstances. But, given the foregoing, one should not be too hasty to judge, especially when elements of the plan prove to be more brilliantly conceived than anyone could have possibly imagined.

“Remember” is a knock-out from start to finish, with phenomenal performances by Plummer, Landau and a superb supporting cast, as well as a host of intriguing cinematic allusions. As viewers will surely find, not everything is as it seems, with twists and turns that will shock, surprise and give one serious pause to think, and therein lies the genius of this picture as one of the most adeptly told suspense thrillers to have graced the screen in a long time. Despite the picture’s troubling subject matter, it’s hard to take one’s eyes off of this one, with its narrative effectively holding a taut level of tension right up until the very end. But, most of all, there’s much to ponder beneath the surface of the film’s story line, leaving viewers with much to consider upon its conclusion. Don’t miss it.

The search for justice is often a struggle, especially when it’s tied to such emotionally charged incidents as the Holocaust. With the passage of time, bringing the guilty to justice has grown increasingly difficult, too, adding to that aforementioned frustration. So, to achieve that goal, those who champion the cause must increasingly pursue creative solutions, employing unconventional methods or plans not previously tried. But, as long as the intent is a noble one, the truth will come out, and justice will be served.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

‘Florence Foster Jenkins’ wrestles with life’s lessons

“Florence Foster Jenkins” (2016). Cast: Meryl Streep, Hugh Grant, Simon Helberg, Rebecca Ferguson, Nina Arianda, Stanley Townsend, Allan Corduner, Christian McKay, David Haig, Brid Brennan, John Kavanagh, John Sessions, Davis Mills, Nat Luurtsema, Mark Arnold. Director: Stephen Frears. Screenplay: Nicholas Martin. Web site. Trailer.

Passionately following one’s dreams, no matter what the cost, is a noble endeavor, to be sure. Pursuing what gives us joy is truly an undertaking to which we should all aspire. But what if the pursuit of that goal has the potential for public humiliation – should we continue under such circumstances? What’s more, what if others deliberately shield us from such criticism – are they really doing us any favors, even if they seem to have our best interests at heart? Those are some mighty big life lessons, and they’re among the issues raised and addressed in the bittersweet new biopic, “Florence Foster Jenkins.”

Wealthy socialite and arts patron Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) generously supports the cultural scene in 1940s New York, doting over the music club she founded and frequently organizing salon recitals for her wealthy friends. She’s also eager to offer financial assistance to those whom she considers her peers, like famed, though sometimes fiscally strapped, conductor Arturo Toscanini (John Kavanagh). And, with the aid of her loving husband and onetime aspiring Shakespearean actor, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), Florence relishes her little soirees. But what gives her the greatest pleasure is performing her own renditions of the pieces she loves. There’s just one problem – she can’t hit a right note to save her life.

Arguably the worst vocalist ever to grace the stage, Florence “sings” with such blatantly off-key coloring that it would make even the most tone-deaf among us cringe. But, somehow, most everyone overlooks or doesn’t seem to notice the shrill nature of her shrieking, thanks in large part to St. Clair’s efforts to protect his beloved from the ravages of those who would criticize her, such as New York’s fickle newspaper columnists. She’s also fawned over by others like her vocal coach (David Haig), who’ll gladly tell Florence she’s a virtuoso as long as she pays him his pricey lesson fees. And, if anyone dares raise an eyebrow, such as Florence’s new classically trained accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg), St. Clair is quick to pounce, putting out the fires before they ever have a chance to smolder.

So why does everyone put up such a façade over Florence’s woeful crooning? For starters, as already noted, she’s an exceedingly generous patron, and money speaks volumes with financially challenged artists. Then there’s her unflappable enthusiasm for her art; she’s so passionate about performing that no one is anxious to discourage her, no matter how ear-splitting her screeching may be. But, above all, no one has the heart to deflate the spirits of a dying woman; as a syphilis patient in the last stages (an illness she contracted from her now-deceased first husband), Florence’s health is fragile and fading fast, so who would be so cruel as to deny someone her passion with the clock quickly winding down?

Still, the question remains, is anyone doing Florence any favor by being so overprotective? Are they really sparing her feelings? What would happen to her if the truth were to ever come out? Could she handle such a rude awakening? Those questions get called when Florence takes it upon herself to make a record as a Christmas gift for her music club friends. But what would happen if someone outside the club got hold of a copy, such as a radio show host? If that weren’t problematic enough, though, the calamity potential looms even larger with a subsequent development. While St. Clair is away for a weekend with his mistress, Kathleen (Rebecca Ferguson), Florence books a date for a solo recital at Carnegie Hall, primarily as a benefit for American servicemen. These challenges are bigger than anything St. Clair has previously tried to contain, and the risk of the truth coming out – and its potentially devastating effects – hover like a storm cloud sure to unleash an uncontrollable downpour.

As this film illustrates, honesty is trickier to manage than one might think, despite it generally being considered the best policy. No matter how much we might try to finesse the truth, there are bound to be consequences – perhaps even collateral damage – associated with such efforts. It’s at times like this when we must search our souls to determine what course of action truly is best, regardless of how painful it may be. And the best starting point is our beliefs, the cornerstone of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience.

Given the particulars of this scenario, of course, one can’t help but ask why the principals have manifested what they have. Obviously their reasons are their own. But, in the pursuit of learning particular life lessons, all options are on the table through conscious creation, no matter how dubious some of them might seem, as Florence’s experience clearly illustrates.

If one were to speculate about the reasoning behind the protagonist’s creations, several possibilities emerge. For example, Florence’s love of music and her pursuit of it for its own sake appear to provide her with sufficient motivation to bring these passions to life through the power of her beliefs. These are certainly laudable ambitions, too, regardless of how adept (or inept) she might be at materializing them. Such unabashed gumption is something we can all learn from, especially if we unduly hold ourselves back from living out our dreams.

At the same time, though, it’s possible that Florence has also sought to experience other, more problematic life lessons, such as the prospects of ridicule, humiliation, willful denial and being kept in the dark. One might wonder what possible value there is in these kinds of unpalatable experiences, but, as souls who are continually evolving, who ultimately seek to engage in the full range of physical existence, everything is fair game, potential calamities included. If, indeed, such experiences are part of Florence’s metaphysical agenda, then their manifestation is certain to occur in one form or another.

Meanwhile, those who share in these co-creations with Florence afford themselves an opportunity for life lessons of their own. For instance, given the fiercely protective nature of St. Clair’s and Cosmé’s actions, they have access to circumstances to teach them (and those around them) the merits of compassion. In an age when so many of us are quick to criticize, Florence’s backers provide us with a fine example of what it means to nurture our support for others – and to cut them some much-needed slack.

In various ways, these manifestations embody several key principles that characterize the conscious creation process. Most notably they illustrate how to push through limitations, knocking down barriers that many may see as insurmountable. At the same time, they also demonstrate the value of overcoming fears and living courageously, despite the odds. In that regard, Florence shows us the way, as do her most ardent supporters. And these may be among biggest and most important life lessons depicted in this film.

If the narrative of this picture sounds familiar, it’s because Florence’s biography provided the basis of the plot of the fictional French production “Marguerite”, which came out in limited release earlier this year. There are a number of similarities between the two films, but there are enough differences to distinguish them as well. A number of elements, such as Florence’s numerous eccentricities (like her inordinately ravenous appetite for potato salad and her penchant for perpetually toting a well-worn leather briefcase whose contents are a mystery), are present here, despite their exclusion in the film’s fictional counterpart. In terms of similarities, both pictures feature the protagonists’ off-key vocalizations as centerpiece elements, but, despite their prevalence in each production, they’re so effectively done that they never grow tiresome in either case.

The stellar performances of Grant, Helberg and, especially, Streep (a virtually guaranteed Oscar nominee) definitely make this film, elevating its sometimes-unfocused screenplay and imbuing it more spit and polish than it might have had in lesser hands. The main problem with the script is that it occasionally has trouble striking the right balance between comedy and drama, never quite finding the right mix of when it’s acceptable to laugh at Florence and when to feel sorry for her. The film certainly hits the right notes in its lavish period piece production values and its hilarious “musical numbers,” and director Stephen Frears does his best to make it all work, but the pacing and writing never quite even out as effectively as they could. Enjoy this one for the performances but don’t be disappointed if it doesn’t quite live up to expectations.

Life’s lessons take myriad forms, both pleasant and devastating. They all ultimately make up who we are, both as physical beings on the earthly plane and as enlightened entities on the soul level. How we gain those experiences is up to us, thanks to what the conscious creation process makes possible, but, in the end, they all play a part in furthering our metaphysical education and spiritual evolution. To that end, then, we would be wise to welcome, even relish, those experiences for what they’re worth, no matter how uplifting or disappointing they may be in the creation of the works of art that are each of us.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Florence Foster Jenkins" and "Remember" and a preview of a special David Bowie movie screening are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network available by clicking here.

Perpetually off-key vocalist Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep, left) prepares for her Carnegie Hall debut with her accompanist, Cosmé McMoon (Simon Helberg, center), and husband, St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant, right), in director Stephen Frears’ latest offering, “Florence Foster Jenkins.” Photo by Nick Wall, courtesy © 2016 by Paramount Pictures.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

‘Gleason’ honors the hero within

“Gleason” (2016). Cast: Steve Gleason, Michel Varisco, Rivers Gleason, Mike Gleason, Scott Fujita, Blair Casey, Paul Varisco Sr., Kyle Gleason, Gail Gleason, Jim Eutizzi, Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, John Elway, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Mike McCready, Eddie Vedder. Director: Clay Tweel. Screenplay: Clay Tweel. Web site. Trailer.

What makes a hero? Many of us probably think of comic book figures, first responders or combat vets. Those examples are certainly inspiring, and their contributions (especially those of the real world figures) are definitely laudable. But, as the new documentary “Gleason” illustrates, heroes sometimes come in the unlikeliest of forms.

Former NFL player Steve Gleason didn’t really fit the profile of your typical football star. He was a little undersized, and his cerebral, somewhat reserved personality didn’t exactly lend itself to that of the prototypical grid iron hero. But what he may have lacked in stature he made up for in tenacity and drive, giving his all to the game and making quite a mark on the field.

As a safety for the New Orleans Saints, Gleason is best known for having blocked a punt that led to a touchdown in the first home game held at the Louisiana Superdome in 2006 after the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina a year earlier. The play was seen as a symbol of New Orleans’ rebirth, and it has since been immortalized in a statue outside the stadium. But, despite the impact of that accomplishment, the mark Gleason has left since his football career ended makes this achievement pale by comparison.

In 2011, Gleason was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease that leads to the degeneration of the muscles while leaving one’s mental faculties intact. The disease, which has affected such others as Lou Gehrig and Stephen Hawking, leaves its victims unable to walk, talk and eventually breathe. The typical life expectancy from the time of diagnosis is two to five years. So, when faced with such a prognosis, Gleason deliberately chose to make the most of the time he had left.

For example, Steve and his wife, Michel Varisco, decided that his illness was no reason to prevent them from becoming parents, and, nine months after his diagnosis, Michel gave birth to their son, Rivers. Steve wanted to be involved in his son’s upbringing as much as possible, but, knowing what the future held, he realized that he wouldn’t be able to do many of the typical things that dads do. So, to help ensure that Rivers knew who his father was, Steve began making a series of video blogs to share his thoughts. The blogs, many of which are featured in the documentary, cover a broad range of topics, from love to spirituality to the meaning of life. That’s quite a gift to one’s child, something we all could learn from.

Former NFL star and ALS patient Steve Gleason cradles his son, Rivers, in director Clay Tweel’s candid, heartfelt documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

Gleason’s efforts at squaring things in his life didn’t stop at becoming a father. He consciously made an effort to settle his accounts with others, particularly in his personal relationships, such as with his own father, Mike. Through a series of candid, heartfelt exchanges, the documentary depicts how father and son come to terms with years of issues left unsaid and unresolved, an eye-opening experience to be sure.

With time for fully appreciating what life has to offer running out, Steve also chose to pursue long-cherished experiences while he was still able. He took an extended road trip to Alaska, seeing sights beyond description. It proved to be a life-changing experience.

Upon his return from Alaska, Steve undertook his biggest venture yet. He went public about his illness and created Team Gleason, a foundation aimed at helping ALS patients by making long-held dreams come true and by improving the quality of their lives through technology and other supporting means. The effort quickly garnered the enthusiastic backing of others, including former teammates Scott Fujita and Drew Brees, fellow NFL players Kurt Warner and John Elway, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, and Pearl Jam members Mike McCready and Eddie Vedder. The organization demonstrated its resolve through its signature slogan, “No white flags.”

Proud parents Steve Gleason (right) and Michel Varisco (center) share a moment with their son, Rivers (left), in the inspiring and touching new documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

Team Gleason’s efforts have since expanded from its original mission. Its programs have led to such accomplishments as securing the enactment of federal legislation guaranteeing Medicaid coverage of technology enabling ALS patients to communicate when they can no longer speak and the wildly successful ice bucket challenge aimed at raising funds for ALS research. And who says a football player’s heroics only occur on the grid iron?

Living the life of the hero is an important component of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. It represents the surmounting of our fears and moving forth courageously to live out our destiny. It may not always be the easiest undertaking we pursue, but it’s certainly one of the most fulfilling, especially when our efforts leave a mark on the world. And Gleason has left more than a few.

For instance, in his football career, Gleason brought renewed hope to a city whose collective spirit was broken, not only by the forces of nature but also by the rampant failings of an inept government bureaucracy. His legendary play at the Saints’ first home game in almost two years – at a facility, the Louisiana Superdome, that had come to symbolize the horrors of social breakdown during and after Katrina – validated that New Orleans was indeed back, filling citizens of the Crescent City with an emboldened new hope for the future.

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (right) is one of many notable supporters of Team Gleason, a foundation established to support ALS patients formed by former teammate and ALS patient Steve Gleason (left), as seen in director Clay Tweel’s outstanding new documentary, “Gleason.” Photo by Lori Burns, courtesy of Open Road Films.

But, in the time since his retirement from the game, and particularly since his diagnosis, Steve has shown the true nature of a hero, both in his personal dealings and in what he has done for others. He recognized what needed to be done in these various areas of his life and stepped up to address them. By coming forward publicly about his illness, for instance, he helped draw awareness to a heartbreaking, debilitating disease that traditionally has not received the same level of attention as other conditions. And then, in launching Team Gleason, he provided valuable assistance to those who may not have received such support were it not for what he did. His accomplishments in these areas show a strong affinity for living out his value fulfillment, the quality characterized by putting our best selves forward for the benefit of ourselves and those around us, hallmark qualities of conscious creation and the spirit of heroism.

In both his football career and his subsequent philanthropic efforts, Gleason made things happen through the sheer power of his intents. Even when he was no longer physically able to do the work himself, he successfully drew into his life others who could help out. His track record of achievements, either through his own direct efforts or those of his surrogates, shows the strength of his character and the faith he has placed in the beliefs needed to realize such objectives, an example we could all learn from.

Of course, while it’s easy to recognize the value of these heroic creations, one might legitimately wonder why he materialized such a debilitating condition. That’s a difficult question but not one for us to answer, since it’s part of his journey, whatever the reason and manifesting beliefs behind it. As becomes apparent in the film, even he’s not sure why he’s been affected by ALS, frequently speaking to the issue in his video blogs, especially when frankly addressing spiritual topics and his connection to God.

However, considering Gleason’s public standing and what that notoriety has helped make possible for so many – benefits that may not have been otherwise realized – perhaps this illness was part of that heroic effort. It’s not something that many of us may have been willing to put ourselves through, and Gleason himself openly expresses his doubts and reservations. But, by having endeared himself to so many, Steve rallied countless supporters to his cause, making it possible to carry forward with his mission to help others similarly afflicted. And, as he states unequivocally in the film, he knows, despite the hardships of his journey, that his soul is indeed saved. Spoken like a true hero.

As part of his effort to live his life to the fullest, ALS patient Steve Gleason (right) creates video blogs to share his thoughts and to interview those important to him, such as Pearl Jam lead vocalist Eddie Vedder (left), a band Gleason grew up with, as depicted in the new documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.

“Gleason” is an excellent, compellingly candid documentary about a remarkable man on a remarkable odyssey. The raw honesty and uplifting inspiration showcased in director Clay Tweel’s offering are astounding, portrayed with an unrestrained frankness rarely depicted on screen. Its celebration of personal heroism and the spirit to carry on despite the odds is touching, enlightening and mesmerizing.

For all of its inspiration, though, the film also has its share of heartbreaking moments, such as its uncensored depiction of the decline of Gleason’s physical state. It shows the stress and hardships placed on the marriage of a couple whose partners obviously love one another but who must contend with changes and challenges far greater than what either of them probably envisioned. But, as a clip from the couple’s wedding aptly illustrates, the true strength of a marriage comes through not when things are good but when things are difficult. And, from what this film illustrates, this is obviously a couple that loves one another very much, yet another source of inspiration we can draw from, even through the sadness.

Rising to the occasion provides us with an opportunity to rise to meet ourselves. Such an experience may astonish us by revealing capabilities and reserves of inner strength we never knew we possessed. And, through this extraordinary film, Steve Gleason shows us how, and he does so with a heroism we can only hope to emulate.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 8, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Gleason" and "Mediterranea" and a podcast preview are all available in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Former NFL star and ALS patient Steve Gleason cradles his son, Rivers, in director Clay Tweel’s candid, heartfelt documentary, “Gleason.” Photo courtesy of Open Road Films.