Friday, January 31, 2014

‘The Hunt’ examines the persistence of beliefs

“The Hunt” (“Jagten”) (2012 production, 2013 release). Cast: Mads Mikkelsen, Thomas Bo Larsen, Anne Louise Hassing, Annika Wedderkopp, Lasse Fogelstrøm, Susse Wold, Lars Ranthe, Alexandra Rapaport, Sebastian Bull Sarning, Bjarne Henriksen. Director: Thomas Vinterberg. Screenplay: Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg. Web site. Trailer.

In an age when so many aspects of life seem so inherently transient, it’s hard to fathom how some can persist with dogged determination. This can be particularly maddening when it comes to those we’d rather rid ourselves of, yet they’re almost always the ones that endure the longest. When such circumstances arise, there’s usually some kind of life lesson involved, one that we’d be wise to address, a point driven home in a poignant drama from Denmark, “The Hunt” (“Jagten”), now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

Putting one’s life back together after a domestic upheaval can be quite a daunting challenge. Just ask Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), a mild-mannered kindergarten classroom aide who’s seeking to make a fresh start after a nasty divorce. The newly single father endeavors to remain upbeat, despite an ongoing series of heated telephone exchanges with his ex-wife over such matters as living arrangements for their teenage son, Marcus (Lasse Fogelstrøm).

But life does have its compensations, too. Lucas revels in the camaraderie of his friends, a band of jovial huntsmen who routinely scout the woods for adventure and regularly share lots of laughs (not to mention copious amounts of food and drink). He also enjoys his job, the company of his co-workers and the fun-loving children he cares for, particularly Klara (Annika Wedderkopp), the young, doe-eyed daughter of his best friends, Theo (Thomas Bo Larsen) and Agnes (Anne Louise Hassing). Even the prospect of a new romance looms with one of his colleagues, Nadja (Alexandra Rapaport).

However, no sooner do circumstances begin to look up when Lucas’s world comes crashing back down on him. A passing comment from one of his students erupts into an accusation of sexual abuse. The charge is utterly false, but the insinuation quickly escalates into a full-blown crisis. Beginning with an internal investigation that rapidly morphs into an all-out witch hunt, Lucas is soon ostracized, falling afoul of the school’s principal, Grethe (Susse Wold), as well as his friends, his colleagues and the community at large. Even relations with Nadja and Marcus are strained. Before long, Lucas is in the fight of his life. The question is, can he survive it?

Beliefs, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the conscious creation process, can be notoriously stubborn conceptions at times. And, to a certain degree, they almost have to be to be powerful enough to materialize the elements that make up physical existence, a state of being characterized by persistent, densely constituted elements. However, there are occasions when beliefs can hang on so steadfastly that they seemingly outlast their usefulness, all of which goes to show just how potent they truly are. Indeed, they must be rather robust if they can successfully withstand efforts aimed at their dissolution or alteration.

Lucas discovers this for himself during the unfolding of his nightmarish ordeal. The prevailing beliefs associated with his alleged guilt hang on with an incredible resiliency, almost to the point of a tenacious vengeance. Even when it becomes obvious that the charges leveled against him lack merit, he’s still subjected to the scorn and ridicule of others, including those who have long supported him. No matter how unfairly he’s treated, he’s unable to escape the intense scrutiny and derision relentlessly inflicted upon him.

How do such beliefs become so entrenched? In many instances, they can become securely anchored when they receive widespread backing, the kind that arises from the input of the mass consciousness. Such collective support can be quite formidable, too, constantly reinforcing the beliefs in question and growing ever stronger with each new voice that joins the chorus of ratification.

What’s more, beliefs can become further strengthened when related notions lend their support. For instance, Lucas is presumed guilty in large part because of a prevailing belief among his peers and in the community at large that children never lie, that their innate innocence prevents them from fibbing, especially when it comes to matters they’re unlikely to understand, such as sexuality. It never occurs to any of them that their little ones might be capable making things up, that their imaginations might be running wild or that they simply could be repeating something they overheard from another source, all with no regard for or awareness of the fallout of their actions. By investing unquestioningly in such an idea, the accusers reinforce their suspicions, making it even more difficult for the defendant to clear his name.

Of course, one also can’t help but wonder why Lucas would draw such circumstances into his reality. After all, he seems to have suffered enough in recent months, so why would he attract an even greater hardship like this, one that threatens to topple all of the meaningful foundations of his life? Interestingly enough, the answer to that question may have absolutely nothing to do with the subject matter of the charges leveled against him.

As is abundantly apparent at the film’s outset, Lucas is a very nurturing soul. For starters, he’s a very loving father who would do virtually anything for his son. What’s more, he’s great with the kids at school, especially Klara, whose home life can be rather trying at times, especially when her parents argue and her father drinks. Lucas obviously feels for her and does what he can to assuage her sorrow.

At the same time, though, Lucas has a very different side, one that surfaces when he goes hunting. His loving, nurturing self seemingly evaporates as he quietly but earnestly stalks his prey, and he strikes without hesitation when the opportunity presents itself. Indeed, he has no qualms about bagging a deer while out on one of his walks in the woods.

So, when accusations of sexual abuse are leveled against Lucas, he’s suddenly exposed, quickly becoming just like one of the vulnerable animals he pursues in the forest. The hunter thus becomes the hunted, with the tracker getting an ample taste of his own very bitter medicine. In this way, Lucas comes to experience what all conscious creators invariably do – the idea that our outer world mirrors our inner thoughts in a metaphorical, almost poetic way. Of course, the impact of this is lost if it goes unnoticed, so it would behoove the protagonist to pay attention to what’s going on if he truly wants to understand the lesson behind such a materialization.

The kind of power employed and unleashed in a scenario like this is quite substantial, to say the least. Because of that, it’s incumbent upon us to realize what forces we wield as conscious creators. This is particularly true for Lucas’s accusers – all of them – for their beliefs, actions and creations carry consequences, perhaps including wide-ranging ramifications far greater than they may initially realize. Such circumstances underscore the responsibility that comes with the manifestation process, as well as the pitfalls that can arise when we practice un-conscious creation or creation by default, an approach to the materialization process that places outcomes over consequences. This can be disastrous when intentions aimed at inflicting harm (or sometimes even just seeking “justice”) are involved. But, by contrast, it can also be miraculous when the mix of manifesting beliefs is infused with powerful and positive components, such as the influence of forgiveness. To be sure, wonders can indeed be worked when the right belief formula is put to use.

“The Hunt” is an excellent, thoughtful meditation on the power and persistence of beliefs. The film is beautifully photographed and features superb performances, particularly those turned in by Mikkelsen, Wedderkopp and Larsen. Its many fine attributes have been widely recognized, too. The picture has earned nominations as best foreign language film in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Independent Spirit and Academy Award competitions. In addition, it was a Palme d’Or nominee at the Cannes Film Festival, where it also took home best actor honors, as well as the Festival’s Prize of the Ecumenical Jury and the Vulcain Prize for outstanding cinematography.

When we engage in acts of creation, we may manifest materializations that are ever so fleeting or that persist indefinitely. To that end, then, we should be careful about what we seek to produce, especially if we do so without due regard for the consequences or life lessons that may be associated with the undertaking. By doing so, we could end up victims of our own conceptions, trapped and unable to release ourselves from our own snares. “The Hunt” focuses on these issues with a sharpness even greater than what can be found through the sight of a rifle scope, and the clarity it affords reveals a much-coveted target. But, when we at last take aim, we’d better be careful when we pull the trigger.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

My New Book Trailer Is Here!

I'm pleased to announce the upcoming release of my new book, Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover's Guide to the Law of Attraction, available in softcover and ebook formats from your favorite online book sellers in late February. In the meantime, get a preview by checking out my new book trailer, available by clicking here.

My thanks to Paul L. Clark and Mary Giuffre of Inspirtainment ( for an excellent job in creating this wonderful new video and to the many distinguished experts in the movie, writing and new thought communities for lending me their kind words and support.

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment,

Friday, January 24, 2014

‘Osage County’ reveals the potency of personal power

“August: Osage County” (2013). Cast: Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Ewan McGregor, Chris Cooper, Sam Shepard, Benedict Cumberbatch, Juliette Lewis, Margo Martindale, Abigail Breslin, Dermot Mulroney, Julianne Nicholson, Misty Upham. Director: John Wells. Screenplay: Tracy Letts. Play: Tracy Letts, August: Osage County. Web site. Trailer.

Whenever we see someone rise to greatness, we’re inspired by the impressive personal power that they wield. But managing such power can be a dual-edged sword as anyone can attest who has witnessed its unleashing in the manifestation of terrible atrocities. The challenges associated with this issue can become apparent in a variety of arenas, too, including everything from the world geopolitical stage to the everyday theater of family relations. That point gets driven home with riveting clarity in the dark new comedy-drama, “August: Osage County.”

The Weston family of rural Osage County, Oklahoma harbors a plethora of secrets, and most of those issues have evaded revelation or resolution for a very long time. Everyone has had a hand in this, and their respective challenges have taken a variety of forms. It’s quite a potent concoction indeed.

For instance, family patriarch Beverly Weston (Sam Shepard), an award-winning poet, has spent years escaping into an alcohol-induced reality to cope with the challenges of his daily life. His biggest task is dealing with his perpetually embittered, foul-mouthed wife Violet (Meryl Streep), a pill-popping shrew who spews venomous tongue lashings at every turn and who has recently been diagnosed with, of all things, mouth cancer. Beverly faces these conditions mostly alone, too, much of his family having unapologetically abandoned him. His daughter Barbara (Julia Roberts) has fled to Denver with her husband Bill (Ewan McGregor) and daughter Jean (Abigail Breslin), while his daughter Karen (Juliette Lewis) has sought refuge in Miami in the arms of a seemingly endless string of irresponsible, uncaring suitors. Only his daughter Ivy (Julianne Nicholson) has stayed behind, biding her time leading a life of quiet desperation, stalwartly attempting to deal with her dysfunctional parents and patiently struggling to contain the growing frustration simmering inside her.

However, the Westons’ unresolved issues can’t be put off forever, so, as fate would have it, an opportunity to address them finally arises when a family tragedy strikes. With everyone returning to the family homestead, their long-deferred challenges get brought to the surface for attention. As this process unfolds, the personal demons of the Weston tribe become apparent, as do those of several extended family members, including Violet’s sister Mattie Fae (Margo Martindale), her husband Charlie (Chris Cooper) and their son Charles, Jr. (Benedict Cumberbatch). Even a few “witnesses” come along for the ride, such as Karen’s flashy, pot-smoking fiancé Steve (Dermot Mulroney) and the family’s recently hired soft-spoken Native American caregiver, Johnna (Misty Upham). And so, with the stage set, the Westons prepare to tackle questions that have long gone unanswered, a catharsis that takes in the full range of emotions, all of which are wrapped up in blankets of high drama, biting humor and profound revelation.

To divulge more about the specifics of the film’s narrative would reveal too much. However, suffice it to say that the individual events associated with this intense family gathering – played out through group meals, one-on-one encounters and clandestine meetings – all serve to expose and address the characters’ outstanding challenges. How it all unfolds makes it possible for each of them to examine these questions, assess possible solutions and adopt measures for moving forward in their lives. But, perhaps even more importantly, the experience provides them an opportunity to look within themselves, to see what drives them. Such self-appraisals help them to clarify their thoughts, beliefs and intents, the means by which they create their individual realities, for better or worse.

In addressing the foregoing, “August: Osage County” offers an excellent look at the tremendous power tied up in our personal beliefs, particularly the role they play in manifesting the world around us through the conscious creation process. The film shows what that power is capable of creating, not to mention the almost-unfathomable degree of impact it can have when it’s unleashed without restraint. In that regard, the Westons routinely demonstrate – without reservation – the extremes to which we can go when we let loose with our beliefs, pointedly illustrating the consequences that can arise from such an unrestrained use of power.

Given the realities these characters materialize, one can’t help but wonder why they would manifest what they do. Their lives, for the most part, appear pretty horrible. But, considering that all potential probabilities are equally viable, these existences are just as valid as any other, no matter how repulsive they may seem to outsiders. If nothing else, these sorts of experiences could be chalked up to significant life lessons, albeit patently unpleasant ones, but lessons that we must each go through as part of the learning curve of our soul’s evolution.

Having negative experiences like this does have its value, though, for they ultimately help us to appreciate life’s finer qualities. And, on some level, the Westons realize this, too, as each of them actively seeks to escape their situations in their own ways. Some, like Barbara and Karen, have fled their circumstances – literally – as a means to get away from them. Other family members draw upon alternate “solutions,” like Violet, who seeks refuge in drug-induced stupors, and Beverly, who crawls inside a bottle and buries himself in his books, among other means, to flee. Their awareness of these solutions (and their attendant degree of effectiveness) isn’t always clear to them, however, since the characters are generally more preoccupied with manifesting expedient escapes at any cost than with addressing the underlying intents that created their difficulties in the first place. If they were to place more of their attention on the root causes of their troubles (i.e., the faulty beliefs creating them), they might have more success eliminating their problems and producing existences that are more fulfilling from the outset.

Facing those underlying causes is crucial to understanding why we experience what we do. In essence, the reality around us mirrors what we believe, even if we don’t fully understand why we hold onto a particular set of manifesting beliefs. Violet’s illness, for example, is a direct reflection of the verbal onslaughts she regularly hurls at others. And, as a result of such behavior (and the beliefs behind it), she’s now getting back what she’s been putting out for years, her disease manifesting as a painfully ironic metaphor – and an affliction that could very well kill her. Circumstances like this thus help to point out the inherent responsibility that goes with conscious creation, particularly when it comes to understanding our beliefs, for, as the foregoing example illustrates, they’ll assuredly come back to us like a metaphysical boomerang.

How we respond to our creations is equally important as what we manifest, and this becomes painfully apparent during the Weston family gathering. Violet, for instance, explains her embittered behavior as a response to the brutal experiences of her childhood. But is such a reaction the only one available to her? After all, Mattie Fae grew up under comparable conditions as her sister, and she chose a different (or at least less volatile) response to those circumstances as she moved forward in life. By continuing to embrace bitterness, Violet only perpetuates what she grew up with, making an escape from her past (and all that entailed) virtually impossible.

A similarly ironic response can be seen in Barbara’s efforts to foster a meaningful relationship with her mother. She’s long seen herself as being vastly different from Violet, eschewing the worst of her mother’s temperament, prejudices and behavior. At the same time, she’s attempted to thwart those negative traits by developing an amicable connection with her mom. Yet Barbara’s conciliatory overtures have been shot down at virtually every turn, prompting her own embittered reactions. And so, in an effort to reach out to Violet, she unwittingly becomes just like her, a disillusioning experience for mother and daughter alike – a similarity that neither of them can see until others point it out to them. It’s a hard realization for Barbara and Violet, one that provides them both with considerable food for thought about what they seek to create and why, a lesson we should all take to heart.

“August: Osage County” packs quite an emotional punch, both in its gut-wrenching pathos and scathing dark humor. It features excellent performances across the board, especially by Streep, Roberts, Lewis and Martindale. The writing, based on screenwriter Tracy Letts’s Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play, is generally crisp, even if its presentation sometimes comes across as a little stagy (something that almost inevitably comes with the territory when a play is translated from the stage to the screen). Moreover, some have questioned the plausibility of the level of dysfunction on display here, but I’m sure most of us can probably think of families we know or have heard of, either from media reports or personal experience, that are just as out of kilter as the Westons (hopefully we’re not part of them ourselves).

The film has received its share of accolades, though it has yet to garner any major awards. Streep and Roberts have both earned acting nominations in the Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award competitions, and the picture’s performing ensemble earned comparable honors in the Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild contests. The movie also received a Critics Choice Award nomination for best adapted screenplay.

As author Marianne Williamson wrote in her book A Return to Love, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” If that’s true (and I believe it is), one could contend that the Westons should be trembling in their boots. It’s obvious that they know how to tap into their personal power but that they’re seriously in need of learning how to harness it, to manage its potency with tempered discipline. We can all learn from their experiences, for, if we don’t, we’re just as likely to suffer the consequences of what can happen when we let our power – and ourselves – get out of control.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 17, 2014

'Llewyn Davis' exposes the inner saboteur

“Inside Llewyn Davis” (2013). Cast: Oscar Isaac, Carey Mulligan, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Garrett Hedlund, F. Murray Abraham, Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett, Max Casella, Jerry Grayson, Sylvia Kauders, Ian Jarvis, Adam Driver, Stark Sands, Jeanine Serralles, Stan Carp. Directors: Ethan Coen and Joel Coen. Screenplay: Joel Coen and Ethan Coen. Web site. Trailer.

Getting out of our own way is often one of the biggest challenges we face in attaining success. For whatever reason, we often become stymied by various fixations, blind spots and pet peeves that hold us back from fulfilling our aspirations – and our potential. That’s a problem illustrated through the experiences of a beleaguered musician in the Coen Brothers’ new period piece film, “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Folk singer Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) leads a pretty unenviable life. The struggling artist desperately scrapes by while attempting to make a name for himself in the emerging folk music community of New York’s Greenwich Village in 1961. But, no matter what he does, he invariably winds up shooting himself in the foot, giving new meaning to the notion of “one step forward, ten steps back.”

Why all the trouble? Well, for starters, he’s seeking to build a career as a solo act, his former singing partner having inexplicably taken a suicidal leap off the George Washington Bridge. Then there’s his doddering, clueless record label owner, Mel Novikoff (Jerry Grayson), an aging, small-time producer whose grasp on reality diminishes with each passing day. And, with copies of his debut solo album, Inside Llewyn Davis, amassing piles of dust, the artist’s prospects seem limited to little more than occasional live appearances at the Village’s Gaslight Cafe.

But the biggest source of Llewyn’s troubles is Llewyn himself. Despite his capabilities for penning heartfelt compositions and delivering emotive performances, he just never seems to be able to get his act together, literally or figuratively. He bounces from temporary living arrangement to temporary living arrangement, mostly crashing on the nearest available living room couch. He’s perpetually broke, squandering his scant, hard-earned cash on things like paying for a clandestine abortion for Jean Berkey (Carey Mulligan), a fellow folk singer who he got pregnant during a casual fling (the second time he’s become embroiled in circumstances like this, too). And, even when promising opportunities present themselves, Llewyn inevitably finds a way to foul up (mostly with his surly attitude); such is the case, for example, during an impromptu audition for Bud Grossman (F. Murray Abraham), owner of the Gate of Horn, an iconic Chicago folk music mecca to which Llewyn makes a pilgrimage in a desperate attempt to land a gig.

If all that weren’t bad enough, Llewyn surrounds himself with a largely unhealthy circle of peers, such as Jean, whose relentlessly shrill tone frequently works his last nerve. The same can be said of Llewyn’s sister Joy (Jeanine Serralles), whose perpetually hypercritical attitude routinely undercuts any enthusiasm he attempts to generate for himself. He even gets grief from an enigmatic pair of road trip companions, eccentric jazz musician Roland Turner (John Goodman) and his equally odd cohort, Johnny Five (Garrett Hedlund). And, when it comes to the few backers who are willing to get behind Llewyn, such as his friend and fellow musician Jim Berkey (Justin Timberlake) (who also happens to be Jean’s husband), Gaslight Cafe owner Pappi Corsicato (Max Casella), and ardent folk music fans Mitch and Lillian Gorfein (Ethan Phillips, Robin Bartlett), he takes their friendship and support for granted, treating them disrespectfully, seriously overreacting to the slightest of offenses and generally behaving badly.

Considering the foregoing, it’s not difficult to imagine what direction Llewyn’s life will take. But, that obvious inevitability aside, one still can’t help but wonder, why? Even Llewyn doesn’t seem to be able to figure that out. However, with his career and his very survival on the line, he’d better come up with some answers – and fast.

Metaphysically speaking, one might justifiably wonder what Llewyn is thinking. From a conscious creation perspective, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would want to manifest the kind of wholly unsatisfying reality he’s materialized. Indeed, as Jean observes, he’s the antithesis of King Midas, one who manages to turn everything he touches into something far removed from gold. So what’s behind this?

While Llewyn’s motivations are never made completely clear, there are some hints. He seems determined, for example, to create his art his way, and compromise is out of the question. He takes his music seriously, and that’s apparent in his compositions and his performances. However, with the emergence of folk music as an increasingly popular art form, with a growing number of performers vying for attention, many of those artists turn to various contrivances – some of them rather gimmicky – as a means to distinguish themselves, but that’s something Llewyn is loath to do. As a consequence, no matter how beautiful his music might be, he doesn’t stand out from the pack, and, when people don’t readily respond as he hopes, he grows discouraged and embittered, sometimes even lashing out at the few loyal fans he has.

From a conscious creation perspective, this is a classic case of un-conscious creation or creation by default, the practice whereby we employ single-minded beliefs to manifest a desired outcome regardless of the associated consequences. In doing so, Llewyn behaves like the proverbial little kid who doesn’t get his way, one who opts to take his guitar and go home if audiences won’t accept his art on his terms. This is not to suggest that he should abandon his goals and dreams; remaining true to oneself, operating from a perspective of personal integrity, usually yields the most optimum results in the long run. But, by donning blinders and copping an attitude when outcomes don’t live up to expectations, one invariably ends up paying the price, as Llewyn finds out the hard way – over and over again.

As unfulfilling as this course of action might ultimately be, it can also be a significant life lesson that most of us need to experience at some point, and the frustrating, sometimes-painful consequences that go along with this is part of our learning curve. It forces us to assess, and possibly reconsider, our beliefs and motivations, giving thought to what we’re seeking to materialize, as well as to whatever potential fallout might come along for the ride. Such introspection can prove quite valuable, spotlighting aspects of our intents and our being that need to be altered. In this regard, it can be especially helpful at getting in touch with the role and impact of what author Caroline Myss refers to as “our inner saboteur” in creating the existence we experience, an exercise Llewyn would serve himself well to concertedly engage in.

In the end, all of the foregoing illuminates the tremendous power that can be unleashed through the conscious creation process. And this, in turn, sheds light on the responsibility inherent in managing this power. When handled properly, this creative force can yield miraculous results, but, when wielded recklessly, the outcomes can be disastrous. For his part, Llewyn needs to learn the difference.

“Inside Llewyn Davis” is a well-crafted period piece with a very distinctive look, mood and feel featuring solid performances, both musically and in the acting. However, it suffers from a number of shortcomings, such as underdeveloped characters (probably due to a lack of a sufficient back story), an unfocused storyline and tedious pacing, all of which undermine the film’s strengths. Moreover, the Coen Brothers’ signature style of humor isn’t fleshed out here as well as in their many other fine works, which is indeed unfortunate.

I’m not sure if the filmmakers have assumed that viewers are intimately familiar with the 1960s New York folk music scene (particularly the life of singer-songwriter Dave Von Ronk, the artist on whom Llewyn’s character is supposedly based), but the end product certainly comes across that way. It seems as though there’s a lot left unexplained that’s assumed as inherently understood. The result is a slice of life piece with too few laughs, too many left-field quirks and not enough satisfactory explanations, all of which muddy the waters of the plot and cloud the messages the film is attempting to convey. Fault the writing for this, something that seldom misses the mark in Coen Brothers productions.

In spite of its weaknesses, the film has nevertheless earned quite a few honors, including three Golden Globe Award nominations, with nods for best musical/comedy picture and best musical/comedy actor (for Oscar Isaac); three Independent Spirit Award nominations, including best feature and best lead actor; and four Critics Choice Award nominations, including best picture and best screenplay. The picture also won the Grand Prize of the Jury and captured a Palme d’Or nomination at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. However, the film’s performance in the Oscar nominations turned out to be rather anemic, having been surprisingly passed over in the music categories and picking up only two nods in technical areas.

When we insist on fighting against ourselves, we’re the ones who invariably get beat up in the end. That’s a realization many of us need to embrace if we ever hope to move ahead toward the achievement of our objectives. “Inside Llewyn Davis” provides us with a cautionary tale in this regard, offering advice that could ultimately prove valuable – as long as we listen to it.

Copyright © 2013-2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

'Consciously Created Cinema' Is on the Way!

After several years' work (and many hours in front of the silver screen), I'm very pleased to announce the upcoming release of my second book, Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover's Guide to the Law of Attraction. This new title, a followup to my first book, Get the Picture: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies, will be available in ebook and print-on-demand softcover formats, with a launch projected for the second half of February. I'm very excited about this new release!

Like its predecessor, Consciously Created Cinema examines how movies illustrate the principles of conscious creation (also known as the law of attraction). The book explores some of the concepts first raised in Get the Picture and introduces some new principles not examined before. And, as a followup book, Consciously Created Cinema does this by focusing on titles released during the time since the debut of its predecessor, from 2006 to the end of the 2012 movie awards season. Nearly all movie genres are featured, too, from comedy to drama to science fiction and even documentaries. It presents a delicious buffet of cinematic offerings, something sure to suit every taste!

In the coming weeks, keep an eye out for further developments on the book's release. Look for new pages about the book to be set up on Facebook and Google+, as well as ongoing announcements on LinkedIn and Twitter. You'll be able to see when the book will be available and from which sellers, notices of upcoming media events about the book (such as radio interviews) and what others are saying about the book, including luminaries in the field of metaphysics and experts in the movie industry! And that's just the beginning!

Cover design by Paul L. Clark,

I'm sure you'll be pleased with this new release (I am!). So keep an eye on the aforementioned social media sites in the coming weeks to find out more. And, in the meantime, enjoy the show!

Friday, January 10, 2014

‘Mandela’ celebrates the triumph of the human spirit

“Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” (2013). Cast: Idris Elba, Naomie Harris, Tony Kgoroge, Riaad Moosa, Thapelo Mokoena, Terry Pheto, Gys de Villiers, Jamie Bartlett, David Butler, Zolani Mkiva, Simo Mogwaza, Fana Mokoena, Zikhona Zidlaka. Director: Justin Chadwick. Screenplay: William Nicholson. Book: Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom. Web site. Trailer.

Life can toss us some extremely trying challenges, but, no matter how difficult those tasks may be, we always have the power to overcome them if we put our minds to it. Such is the power of the human spirit, a quality of our character showcased in the inspiring new biopic, “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom.”

The struggle to achieve racial equality and social justice in South Africa was a decades-long ordeal that involved considerable strife and suffering. Under the auspices of apartheid, the nation’s legally sanctioned policy of institutionalized racial separation that was designed to preserve the leadership of a white minority over a black majority at almost any cost, South Africa was nearly torn apart from within. What’s more, over time, the country was severely ostracized, increasingly isolated from the rest of the world, especially when its harsh practices become more widely known around the globe. And one man at the heart the struggle became the symbol of that cause, Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) (Idris Elba).

The film follows the life of this iconic figure through six decades of his remarkable odyssey. Beginning with his early days as a lawyer, the picture then charts his emerging activist efforts through his involvement with the African National Congress, a banned but formidable organization that pushed for the rights of the country’s black majority. What began as a largely nonviolent effort, however, eventually turned confrontational, especially when South African authorities began stepping up the brutality of their tactics, even at protests that, although vocal, were otherwise peaceful. In response, Mandela led his followers down a new path, one that included acts that might arguably be considered terrorist incidents but that he and the ANC considered necessary measures to make their voices heard.

For his efforts, Mandela earned the reputation of a hero among his peers and of a criminal among South African authorities. And, even though he was able to evade capture for some time, he was eventually caught, tried and convicted of acts of insurgency, crimes for which he and a group of his associates were sentenced to life in prison. However, despite being behind bars, Mandela’s legacy lived on, thanks in large part to the campaigns to secure his freedom spearheaded by his children and his wife, Winnie (Naomie Harris). Winnie’s activism brought her under scrutiny as well, resulting in her own incarceration but simultaneously prompting the rise of her own brand of militancy.

As the years passed and international pressure began marginalizing the African nation, authorities realized they needed to take steps to preserve the country’s very existence. But, to do that, they also knew they needed to address the concerns of the black majority. And, despite his criminal record, Mandela was seen as a bridge to that community, one that the government hoped to court to achieve an amenable solution. However, when approached, Mandela held firm to his convictions of justice and equality for the nation’s black population, a prospect the white ruling elite railed against. With their backs against the wall, though, the leadership slowly came to realize that it needed to compromise if the nation were to survive. And so, to calm growing pressures and to preserve order, under the direction of President F.W. de Klerk (Gys de Villiers), Mandela was released from prison and his demands were addressed, developments that opened the door to what would be his greatest accomplishment of all – his election as South Africa’s first democratically elected black president.

If nothing else, “Mandela” makes clear the importance of being true to oneself and one’s beliefs, no matter how difficult that may be. In the long run, doing so is the only way to materialize the reality we seek to manifest through the conscious creation process. To that end, we must take the essential steps of embracing integrity and overcoming fear to achieve the desired outcomes. Mandela embodied those qualities, and he saw them through to completion to realize the vision he held for his people and his country.

In the process, however, he also became acutely aware that we get back what we put out. So, even though he followed a violent path during part of his journey, he eventually realized that was not the path that would bring him the results he sought. He came to see how we reap what we sow, that violence only begets violence. Despite the injustices inflicted upon him, his family and his people, he knew he had to change his beliefs if he ever wanted to achieve a different outcome. He came to understand that peace begets peace, and he needed to adjust his thinking accordingly to see that goal realized. Through his struggle, he transcended his prior thinking, making his dissatisfaction known but through peaceful means, a shift in outlook that ultimately made his dream possible.

To be sure, taking this approach came at a high price. Mandela spent over 27 years in prison, and his incarceration took a heavy toll on his marriage, not just because of the separation from Winnie, but also because of the very different political stance she took during his time in jail and thereafter. Their differences led to their eventual divorce, a painful experience on top of all of the other sacrifices he made.

Yet, in spite of his personal travails, Mandela came to see the tremendous power inherent in forgiveness, a force capable of yielding incalculable rewards. Given what happened to him, it would have been easy for Mandela to become embittered and vengeful, and few probably would have faulted him for such a response. But, as Albert Einstein observed, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” and Mandela employed this notion in the solutions he came up with. And, as unlikely as his response may have seemed, it worked, ushering in a new future for the nation to which he devoted his life.

On balance, “Mandela” presents a fair, respectful treatment of its subject’s life, with phenomenal performances by Elba and Harris. It ambitiously attempts to cover a lot of ground in its 2:21 runtime, and it succeeds for the most part, although Mandela’s early days tend to get short shrift, the time when his activism was taking root. Much like another 2013 civil rights release, “The Butler,” the film might have benefited tremendously from a more thorough treatment of its protagonist’s life. It would have made for a longer picture, but it would have also resulted in a better movie.

“Mandela” is also good at telling a “triumph of the human spirit” story – far better than the much more celebrated “12 Years a Slave.” It’s true to this theme without resorting to repeated depictions of unbridled brutality to make its point. In doing so, the film is also careful not to depict Mandela as someone who walked on water, either. It takes a balanced approach in portraying him as an iconic figure who was also human, with all our faults and shortcomings, no matter what accomplishments we might achieve. The film also presents an excellent depiction of South African culture, especially its music and indigenous spiritual beliefs. The picture has been nominated for three Golden Globe Awards, including best dramatic actor, and one Critics Choice Award.

South Africa – and the world – are better places for having had Nelson Mandela in their presence. His recent passing was a great loss, but his contributions to our planet are a lasting legacy that celebrates the man and the ideals for which he stood. The example he set is one to follow for anyone who cherishes freedom and all that comes with it, regardless of where or when we live. And, for that, we should all be grateful for the inspiration he provided us.

Copyright © 2014, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, January 3, 2014

‘Walter Mitty’ proclaims ‘Live your life!’

“The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” (2013). Cast: Ben Stiller, Kristen Wiig, Sean Penn, Shirley MacLaine, Patton Oswalt, Kathryn Hahn, Adam Scott, Adrian Martinez, Ólaf Darri Ólafsson, Marcus Antturi. Director: Ben Stiller. Screenplay: Steve Conrad. Story: James Thurber, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, The New Yorker magazine, 1939. Web site. Trailer.

The allure of living a larger-than-life existence holds an undeniable appeal for many of us. Our conception of such a life can indeed inspire and propel us into a richer, more rewarding, more fulfilling way of being – that is, as long as we actively seek to bring it into realization. By failing to move past a purely hypothetical view of said reality, we run the risk of cheating ourselves out of fully embracing the experience that is physical existence, a point made clear in the entertaining new whimsical comedy, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”

Walter Mitty (Ben Stiller) seriously needs to get a life. The mild-mannered, somewhat geeky bachelor leads a quiet, rather Spartan existence. He spends his days working as a photo editor (or, more precisely, “negative asset manager”) for LIFE magazine, meticulously overseeing the periodical’s library of memorable, magnificent images. But, despite the crucial role he plays in connecting the magazine’s readers with the richness of life’s wonders, he’s personally reconciled himself to an existence on the sidelines of reality, one not really connected to the world he so brilliantly showcases to others through the photos he selects to publish.

Interestingly enough, Walter has compensated for this lack of engagement through the development of a very active and extremely vivid daydreaming life. He routinely zones out, losing himself in elaborate fantasies, heroic adventures in which he envisions himself far differently from the Walter who plods through everyday existence. But, no matter how colorful these escapes may be, they ultimately prove less than satisfying. Thus the challenge for our long-suffering hero is to figure out how to bring those escapades to life – for real. On some level, Walter knows he needs to do this, too. He’s grown discontented with living his life vicariously, be it in his vocation, his daily routine and even his romantic life. But how does he go about implementing the necessary changes to make his life more genuinely fulfilling?

Walter’s opportunity comes when he learns that LIFE is making the switch from a print publication to an online periodical. In preparation for the magazine’s last print edition, he’s charged with ensuring that the final issue’s cover photo is safely processed for publication. The image in question was shot by one of LIFE’s longtime iconic photographers, Sean O’Connell (Sean Penn), a reclusive, globe-trotting shutterbug who has always been one of Walter’s idols. Walter looks forward to working with Sean one last time, and, at least initially, everything seems to be going well – that is, until the negative ends up missing. Now what?

Under considerable pressure from higher-ups to deliver the image, Walter realizes he must find the missing photo. But, to do that, he must first find the elusive photographer, a quest that forces him to embark on an adventure like the ones his idol partakes of on a daily basis. In other words, Walter must at last get a life of his own.

It’s a daunting prospect to someone so unaccustomed to these sorts of grand exploits, but, with such a critical task to carry out, Walter realizes he must do what it takes, no matter what the cost. His remarkable odyssey will ultimately take him to Greenland, Iceland and Afghanistan, and it will bring him into contact with people and places he had once only dreamed of. It’s a lot to go through to find a photo, but, in the process, it also affords Walter an even greater reward – the opportunity to find himself.

Walter’s chief lesson in all this is rather obvious – that he needs to learn how to live his life, not just daydream about it. Getting to that point, however, requires making some necessary adjustments.

For example, facing down one’s fears is essential, for we’ll never get to know what it’s like to participate in certain aspects of life unless we’re willing to move past our apprehensions of trying them out. As he’s depicted in the film, Walter isn’t an especially fretful soul, but, as someone who has rarely given himself permission to engage in life’s adventures, he lacks the experience necessary to routinely engage in such behavior. He must develop the courage to push past that self-imposed barrier to become more fully involved in the manifestation of his existence. When you think about it, that’s pretty ironic for someone who works for a publication named LIFE. But that also probably explains why he’s a photo editor holed up in an office and not a photographer working in the field; through this choice of vocation, he immerses himself in life’s reflections but not in its experiences.

If Walter is ever going to change, he also needs to alter his beliefs, the internal means by which he manifests the external reality he experiences through the conscious creation process. At first glance, this might seem like a challenging task, but, when one considers the breadth of his creativity (as seen in the fantasy sequences portraying his daydreams), he clearly possesses quite an extensive palette of imagination to draw upon – if only he’ll allow himself to avail himself of it.

Some might question the maturity (or even the sanity) of someone who so routinely escapes into a world of fantasy, and those arguments certainly have merit. However, such flights of fancy also illustrate a remarkable capacity to stretch creatively, to push the limits of one’s beliefs, qualities that help to illuminate the range of one’s manifestation skills and all that they make possible. In that sense, then, Walter’s daydreaming sessions could be looked upon as a sort of metaphysical training ground, spotlighting the means by which he envisions creative possibilities before actually attempting to materialize them. Indeed, there is something to be said for practice – provided we don’t stay stuck in that routine forever. After all, life is meant to be lived, not just imagined.

When we lack practical, hands-on experience in creating our reality, we may find it challenging, even perplexing, to engage in the practice when we finally attempt to do so consciously. But that need not be the case. Since our outer reality is a mirror of our inner, belief-driven world, we can draw upon externalized clues that reflect our intents, manifestations that help to make us aware of what we’re creating, perhaps even validating that we’re on the right track.

For instance, such signs can take the form of synchronicities, those little, fortuitously timed “coincidences” that seem too fitting to be characterized as purely random. Walter repeatedly encounters these hints in dealings with his sister (Kathryn Hahn) and his mother (Shirley MacLaine), as well as in his review of photographic clues designed to lead him to his missing idol. Further “evidence” of conscious creation at work can come in the form of pronouncements from muses. Their often-unexpected statements ring true with sparkling clarity, providing insights that are precisely what we need to hear in moments of crisis or when potentially life-changing decisions are called for. In Walter’s case, they frequently come through when he needs their advice most. Some of his muses are people he already knows and admires, like Sean. But others take wholly unanticipated forms, such as an online dating customer service representative (Patton Oswalt) who counsels Walter on ways to court Cheryl, a co-worker and potential new romantic interest (Kristen Wiig). But, regardless of how our intents are reflected back to us, we’d serve ourselves well to pay attention to them, for they often prove invaluable in helping us get a life. Just ask Walter.

On balance, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a thoughtful, engaging comedy. Its visually stunning cinematography (especially in its sweeping landscape shots) and inventive fantasy sequences are quite enjoyable. The film’s clever editing leads viewers out of Walter’s everyday life and into his daydreams with a seamless proficiency that I’ve rarely seen in movies attempting comparable feats.

However, despite these strengths, the picture also suffers from some serious pacing issues, especially in the sequences falling between Walter’s daydreams and between his real-life adventures. Those transitional segments – most of which involve Walter’s painfully dull conversations with Cheryl and his tediously repetitive confrontations with his boss (Adam Scott) – lack energy (in large part due to Wiig’s miscasting) and would benefit from some judicious snipping. The film also includes far too much blatant product placement, making some scenes look more like commercials than entertainment.

Still, in spite of these shortcomings, “Walter Mitty” expresses some nice sentiments, and it does so rather skillfully. That’s particularly true of its exploration of living on the fringes of life as spectators rather than as actively engaged participants. Walter’s evolution sets a good example to follow, especially for anyone who feels a need to leave behind a secret life for one that’s on full view for all to see – especially ourselves.

Copyright © 2013, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.