Thursday, October 30, 2014

‘Birdman’ explores the power of discernment

“Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)” (2014). Cast: Michael Keaton, Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Zach Galifinakis, Amy Ryan, Lindsay Duncan, Jeremy Shamos. Director: Alejandro González Iñárritu. Screenplay: Alejandro González Iñárritu, Nicolás Giacabone, Alexander Dinelaris and Armando Bo. Web site. Trailer.

Making up our minds about what we want from life can be tricky business. Sometimes we think we know what we want only to find out later that we’ve confused ourselves, often in ways that we have trouble sorting out. This is where the power of discernment can be a big help to us. It’s a tool that comes in handy for a long-suffering protagonist in the eccentric new comedy, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is trying to figure out his life. The late middle-aged actor, who made a name for himself 20 years earlier portraying a big screen action hero named Birdman, seeks to redeem his sagging career by directing and starring in a new Broadway production. The play in question, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, is based on a Raymond Carver short story that Riggan has adapted for the stage. This piece represents a radical departure from Riggan’s typical fare, but it’s an attempt to return to the early days of his acting career, when he was performing more serious material, a time when he earned the praise of Carver himself.

But, as earnest as Riggan is about staging this new play, the production is fraught with problems. For example, one of his principal actors, Ralph (Jeremy Shamos), is severely injured during rehearsal right before previews are set to begin. While Riggan is not entirely upset with needing to find a replacement (Ralph’s acting is terrible), he’s still saddled with the challenge of having to do so at the eleventh hour. Thankfully, another of his performers, Lesley (Naomi Watts), recommends a stand-in, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), her romantic partner – and one of the hottest names on Broadway.

When faced with needing to make a last-minute replacement for one of his performers for his new play, writer-director-actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, left) taps the services of Mike Shiner (Edward Norton, right), one of the hottest names on Broadway, in director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest offering, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Still, even though Riggan is able to find a replacement, his challenges continue: Mike proves to be a capable but highly unpredictable substitute; some elements of the play work, while others don’t, causing Riggan to frequently second-guess the viability of his project; money issues threaten to undermine the production’s future, especially with an impending lawsuit from an injured actor looming; and scathing, prejudicial, unjustified attacks from a powerful, self-important critic (Lindsay Duncan) endanger the play’s run before it even starts.

Patching up a troubled parental relationship is a goal for aspiring Broadway actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, left) and his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone, right), in director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

If all that weren’t bad enough, Riggan has his share of issues to contend with offstage as well. For starters, there’s his troubled relationship with his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone), a production assistant on the play who recently emerged from drug rehab. Then there’s Riggan’s on-again/off-again relationship with one of his co-stars, Laura (Andrea Riseborough), a promising and potentially healthy romance that, unfortunately, he often takes for granted because of his many other preoccupations. But, perhaps most importantly, there’s the recurring voice in his head, that of an alter-ego of sorts – the character he portrayed on the screen so many years ago – who alternates between deriding Riggan and counseling him on how to reclaim his personal power.

The on-again/off-again romance between actor Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, right) and his co-star, Laura (Andrea Riseborough, left), is one of many troubled relationships associated with a new Broadway production in “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Riggan’s challenges obviously give him a full plate to manage. Thankfully, he’s not without support, such as the aid provided by his producer, attorney and best friend, Jake (Zach Galifinakis), and the loving compassion of his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan), both of whom always manage to show up and offer assistance just when it’s needed most. And, then, there’s the aforementioned advice served up by Birdman, who seems to have Riggan’s best interests at heart, even if his recommendations don’t always involve suggestions that our hero wants to hear.

When trouble strikes the life of an aspiring Broadway actor, he fortunately has the support of his best friend, Jake (Zach Galifinakis, right), and his ex-wife, Sylvia (Amy Ryan, left), to come to his rescue in the unconventional new dark comedy, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

So how will everything shake out for Riggan? It all comes down to what he’s willing to believe, particularly about himself and the reality he creates. Of course, that requires him to sort out what he believes in the first place, a feat easier said than done. To his credit, he’s willing to pursue practices like meditation to help him get a handle on matters, but, if any of his issues are to be successfully resolved, he must commit to doing the work needed to realize that goal – and that’s what his story (and this film) are ultimately all about.

To get where we want to be in life, it’s imperative that we take charge over our personal power. To do that, though, we must first believe we can and then know what we want to do with it. For his part, Riggan struggles on both fronts.

This is where the significance of the conscious creation process comes into play, for it impels us to get a clear handle on what we believe and, consequently, how we employ it. And that’s crucial, because what we materialize in life is a direct result – and reflection – of our beliefs, especially those that characterize the core of our being.

In Riggan’s case, the primary core belief issue he struggles with is the ability to distinguish between matters of love and admiration. He has always confused the two, often believing that admiration equates to love, and such thinking has been faithfully reflected back to him in his professional accomplishments and personal life. But does the admiration he receives fulfill him in the same way that love does? And, if not, what does it take to get the love he hopes for? That’s what Riggan’s current experiences are all about – to illustrate why he’s getting the results he does and to show him the way toward what he truly wants to achieve. Such is the power that comes from our judicious application of discernment.

Lesley (Naomi Watts), one of the stars in a new Broadway production, realizes her dream of finally making it to the Great White Way in Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

This theme plays out in many ways in the film. Consider, for instance, the play Riggan is staging. Look at its subject matter, and compare that to the quandary he’s seeking to reconcile. The parallels are more than a little coincidental. But is Riggan’s rationale behind this production based on the admiration he’ll get back from audiences and critics or from some hoped-for outpouring of love that will come flooding his way?

This conundrum is also mirrored back to Riggan through the lives and creations of those around him. In their own ways, they, too, wrestle with issues of reconciling love and admiration (particularly in terms of what they get from Riggan in these regards). For instance, Riggan clearly admires Laura for her acting talent and her personal qualities, but, considering the emotional distance he often places between them, does such admiration really equate to heartfelt love? In many ways, it would seem not. And, for her part, Laura recognizes this deficiency in their relationship, realizing that, if she ever hopes to be happy, she must change her beliefs to change her circumstances to attract what she wants in life – those manifestations that are genuinely in line with her core convictions.

Riggan’s awareness of this core distinction is obviously not as clearly defined as it is in the minds of others, so his challenges regarding it permeate more aspects of his life than it does in the lives of those around him. And, in an attempt to make sense of it all, he often looks outside of himself for answers. However, as seasoned conscious creators know, the real answers lie elsewhere – inside, in the realm of our beliefs – which is where Riggan needs to look, too.

If Riggan believes he readily receives admiration but not love, then he must ask himself why. From a conscious creation perspective, that shortcoming almost certainly has nothing to do with what he gets from others but, rather, what he gives to himself. Indeed, if he believes he’s incapable of genuinely loving himself, is it realistic to expect that he’ll receive love from others? If he ever hopes to rectify circumstances in his outer world, he must first do so in his inner world. But, once he does, that change of heart is sure to be reflected back to him in the reality he experiences.

To a great degree, this is where Riggan’s alter-ego comes into play. Birdman pushes his real-world counterpart to take a hard look at himself and his beliefs, to encourage him to see where he truly excels, and to see why people either love or admire him. In his own unconventional way, Birdman realizes that the insights Riggan gleans from these musings will help him understand himself and his beliefs better, which, in turn, will fuel his sense of personal empowerment. And with his empowerment energized, Riggan can more effectively create an existence that brings him what he wants – no matter how unusual that may be.

Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton), a former big screen action hero, is haunted by his past as he struggles to make a career transition to a Broadway actor in the audacious, unconventional dark comedy, “Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Without such clarity of thought and personal empowerment, however, Riggan (or any of us, for that matter) won’t be able to manifest what we seek. When fear, doubt or an internal sense of contradiction is allowed to hold sway (all of which Riggan wrestles with to one degree or another), sought-after results simply won’t materialize. To be sure, if our hero aspires to the heroic attainment of fulfilling his innermost destiny, these are the steps he must take. And, if he does, he just might soar.

“Birdman” is definitely not for everyone, but those who appreciate the thoughtfully offbeat will certainly enjoy this quirky offering. It’s an audacious black comedy that makes us think as much as it does laugh. Its metaphysical insights are spot-on, as are its incisive observations of what we believe constitute love and admiration in today’s culture (such as unapologetically posing questions like, “Is a massive Twitter following really a valid measure of love for someone?”). Admittedly, there are some lapses in writing and pacing at times, but they’re more than compensated for by its many other attributes, such as its distinctive soundtrack and inventive visual effects.

The picture’s greatest strength, though, is its superb ensemble. Keaton shows a range in this role unlike any other part he’s ever played, and he’s a deservedly strong contender for awards season consideration. The supporting cast is excellent as well, with Norton and Stone turning in some of the best work they’ve ever done. Even those players with small roles, like Duncan, shine in their performances. This truly is an actors’ film, and viewers who value the art will certainly relish the stellar portrayals on display here.

Realizing the life we desire is a truly admirable goal, but we had better be prepared to do the work necessary to achieve it. That means getting our belief houses in order through the virtues of discernment, clarity of thought and personal empowerment. At the same time, we must also avoid the pitfall of overthinking our circumstances, for that practice has the potential to keep us from making effective use of those conscious creation powers that are integral to our accomplishments. If we triumph on those fronts, we just might find ourselves taking flight, successfully bringing our high-flying aspirations into being, no matter what they may be.

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

Saturday, October 25, 2014

My Heartfelt Thanks

My heartfelt thanks to Chicago Writers Conference Executive Director Mare Swallow for mentioning my most recent book, Consciously Created Cinema, during the program's opening presentation! "CCC" was one of two titles she mentioned as having been a product that came about as a direct result of the informative presentations given at last year's conference. What a wonderful and unexpected treat to wake up to on a Saturday morning! Thanks, Mare!

Friday, October 24, 2014

‘Whiplash’ seeks to distinguish drive from obsession

“Whiplash” (2014). Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, Paul Reiser, Melissa Benoist, Nate Lang, Austin Stowell, Damon Gupton, April Grace. Director: Damien Chazelle. Screenplay: Damien Chazelle. Web site. Trailer.

When do we cross the line between ambition and fixation? That can be a difficult call, especially for those of us who are decidedly motivated to achieve highly prized aspirations. It’s a struggle rife with challenges, most notably finding out what’s behind those aims. Those dicey issues are among the key considerations that get played out with gripping intensity in the compelling new drama, “Whiplash.”

Jazz drummer Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) wants to be one of the greats. As a freshman at a fictional New York conservatory, Andrew may be just starting out, but he envisions himself one day joining the ranks of drumming legends like Buddy Rich (1917-1987). And the opportunity to scale those daunting heights comes along surprisingly fast when he captures the attention of Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), leader of the school’s premier studio band, who invites him to join the ensemble. Almost overnight, Andrew seems to be on his way.

But Andrew’s big break comes at a cost. Being a member of Fletcher’s band is far more demanding than he ever imagined. As an unrelenting perfectionist accustomed to winning every competition he enters, Fletcher insists on the same level of performance from his students, refusing to accept mistakes or forgive errors. He views every misstep by his musicians as an intolerable act of sabotage. So anyone who wants to play in this elite ensemble must endure the conductor’s intimidating behavior. His taskmaster ways include regular onslaughts of demeaning insults, manipulative mind games, verbal tirades and sometimes even physical abuse.

Fletcher is especially hard on Andrew, who initially feels he’s being unfairly singled out. But, when the new kid buckles down and makes the effort to live up to his potential, he also sees his performance duly rewarded. So, despite these highly questionable conditions, he decides to stick to his commitment.

But how far is Andrew prepared to go? He willingly makes sacrifices, such as abandoning a budding romance to a fellow co-ed (Melissa Benoist), to make more time for his music. Still, no matter what Andrew does, his efforts never seem to be enough. Despite Andrew’s accomplishments, Fletcher continually ups the ante on him, placing ever-greater demands on his time, talent, patience and perseverance. What’s more, Fletcher’s ploys are so scurrilous at times that they even jeopardize Andrew’s relationships with his fellow band mates (Nate Lang, Austin Stowell). And, when some particularly shocking revelations about the conductor surface, Andrew must make some difficult choices about his future. He must truthfully ask himself, “How badly do I want to achieve my goal?” But, even more importantly, he must also decide, “Can I live with my actions?”

As both Andrew and Fletcher seek to realize their goals, they must each address a key concern – the difference between being driven and being obsessed. There’s a fine line between the two, but the primary determiner is the matter of intent – and the conscious creation beliefs that underlie it, because those notions will ultimately determine how matters unfold and what experiences materialize.

For both student and teacher, it’s fairly obvious what they want to achieve. As noted previously, Andrew is eager to become one of the greats, and Fletcher undeniably wants to be the best at his craft. But, in attaining those goals, there’s the even greater question of how.

In becoming experts at what they do, Andrew and Fletcher must transcend themselves, exceeding their expectations and pushing their perceived limits of their capabilities. Andrew, as a neophyte performer, has a vague idea of what that entails, but his lack of experience – both in practical terms as a professional drummer and metaphysically as one who manifests his destiny – keeps him from seeing exactly what that takes. By contrast, Fletcher, as a seasoned and successful professional, has a much better idea of what’s required, but reaching the pinnacle of his aspirations involves getting the most out of his musicians (particularly his star performers), an achievement that he feels has always eluded him. Attaining those transcendent goals is possible, but it may call for measures neither of them has previously considered, taking steps that go beyond what they’re accustomed to. The question is, though, can they successfully realize their respective goals while remaining true to their intents? Or will they resort to actions and behaviors aimed at fulfilling their objectives at any cost?

To live up to his potential. Andrew obviously needs to be pushed, and attracting a taskmaster into his life can help him achieve that goal (hence Fletcher’s presence in his life). Meanwhile, to fulfill his objective as an expert band leader, Fletcher must have outstanding, impressionable musicians (like Andrew) following his baton. But at what point does challenging, inspired tutelage become an exercise in tyrannical scholarship? When does a receptive student become an unwitting, complicit victim? Indeed, when does focused effort transform into blind ambition?

In circumstances when the ends begin to blur our perceptions of the means, we slip into the practice of un-conscious creation or creation by default, where realizing outcomes overshadows the ways we achieve them. As Andrew and Fletcher proceed with their respective endeavors, they wrestle with this consideration, struggling to find the right balance between drive and obsession and to come up with appropriate beliefs for doing so.

Understanding the motivations behind our goals can help tremendously in assessing our beliefs and intents. For instance, much of Andrew’s drive for success comes in response to the failure of his father (Paul Reiser) to fulfill his objective as a successful writer, an unrealized dream that contributed to his parents’ separation at a young age. At the same time, Fletcher has always wanted for one of his students to be a true jazz virtuoso, one who could deliver performances as memorable as those turned in by the likes of Charlie “Bird” Parker (1920-1955). But, again, in realizing these goals, student and teacher must ask themselves, “How far will I go?” and “What am I willing to do?” Answers to these questions, in turn, will significantly influence what beliefs form in response.

In formulating appropriate beliefs, it’s crucial that we pay attention to our true selves, to operate from a sense of personal integrity. If we try to fudge our efforts at this, or, even worse, if we actively disregard this aspect of our character, we set ourselves up for trouble. Andrew and Fletcher must avoid this pitfall, too, if they hope to achieve their goals – and to spare themselves consequences they’d rather avoid.

“Whiplash” is an intensely captivating story involving subject matter that, at first glance, wouldn’t seem to lend itself to such treatment. The story is made all the more intense by its spirited, upbeat score and its superb film editing. Director Damien Chazelle, a Queer Palm nominee at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, has turned in a fine effort in his first major production, giving moviegoers much to look forward to in his future works.

But what truly makes this picture is its stellar acting. Simmons gives a career performance, one that allows him to finally showcase his considerable (and long-underrated) talent and that stands him in good stead as a strong awards season contender. Teller, meanwhile, finally shows us what he’s capable of, far outshining his previously underwhelming efforts in films like “Rabbit Hole” (2010) and “The Spectacular Now” (2013). The chemistry between these two leads is spot-on authentic, too, making for a captivating character study of two highly charged protagonists.

The drive for success is something many of us truly value, but at what price? Gaining a healthy perspective on this issue, both for our own benefit and that of others, is crucial to achieve this objective without causing undue harm to ourselves or those around us. “Whiplash” draws that question into sharp focus, showing us how to keep its potentially adverse ramifications from snapping back and inflicting harm on us in our pursuit of living up to the potential we’re all capable of.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

‘Pride’ encourages us to honor our creations – and ourselves

“Pride” (2014), Cast: Ben Schnetzer, Bill Nighy, Imelda Staunton, Joseph Gilgun, George MacKay, Andrew Scott, Dominic West, Faye Marsay, Paddy Considine, Jessica Gunning, Menna Trussler, Lisa Palfrey, Liz White, Nia Gwynne, Russell Tovey, Rodri Meilir, Karina Fernandez, Jessie Cave, Jack Baggs, Kyle Rees, Freddie Fox. Director: Matthew Warchus. Screenplay: Stephen Beresford. Web site. Trailer.

Are we truly pleased with the lives we lead? Or do we let self-doubt, the expectations of others or the pressures of authority figures get in the way? How we answer those questions depends on how much we value our efforts – and ourselves – in the creation of our realities, no matter who we are or where we come from. These are among the issues brought to light in the new, fact-based inspirational comedy, “Pride.”

In 1984, the United Kingdom was embroiled in a nasty labor dispute in which striking coal miners locked heads with the Conservative Party government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (1925-2013). With both sides at loggerheads with one another, the strike wore on for months, circumstances that took quite an economic toll on the miners. And, with Thatcher intractably clinging to her uncompromising stance, the PM effectively sought to starve the laborers into submission.

But, then, along came an unexpected ally.

At London’s Gay Pride Parade in June 1984, a new community organization was formed to provide assistance to the strikers, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. Organized by activist Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer) and a handful of colleagues (Joseph Gilgun, George MacKay, Dominic West, Faye Marsay, Andrew Scott, Freddie Fox), the group sought to raise funds for – and awareness of the plight facing – families affected by the work stoppage. The thinking behind this unconventional campaign was for one persecuted community to offer aid to another that also suffered the heavy-handed oppression of officialdom, a means by which to build bridges between different, but similarly situated segments of society.

Ashton’s efforts were not without hurdles, however. Many members of the gay community – especially those who relocated to London from rural areas of the U.K. – were reluctant to support the people they left behind, the close-minded, homophobic attitudes prevalent among them having left a bitter taste in the transplants’ mouths. And, to complicate matters further, the strikers’ parent organization, the National Union of Mineworkers, turned down LGSM’s offers of assistance (despite its success in raising substantial amounts of cash), fearing that public perceptions might be tainted by its association with an openly gay group. Discouragement set in. But, before long, a new strategy was implemented that would change everything.

Rather than attempting to change the minds of the NUM bureaucracy, Ashton and company decided to instead focus their efforts on a single miners’ lodge, the striking workers from the small town of Onllwyn in the Dulais Valley of southern Wales. After an initial meeting with the local miners’ representative, Dai Donovan (Paddy Considine), the LGSM contingent set off for the Welsh countryside, having no idea what would await them.

At first, relations between the two factions were quite tense. With many of the townsfolk having never met anyone from the gay community before (at least knowingly), the locals were tentative in approaching the new arrivals. Many were unfamiliar with the ways of a big city subculture. And others, like one of the women’s auxiliary board members (Lisa Palfrey), were outright hostile. However, thanks to Dai’s enthusiastic endorsement of his new colleagues, the LGSM delegation gradually began winning over allies, including the lodge’s recording secretary (Bill Nighy), a number of the miners (Rodri Meilir, Kyle Rees) and several women’s auxiliary board members (Imelda Staunton, Jessica Gunning, Menna Trussler). A new bond was thus forged. But the developments that emerged from that unlikely alliance were far more sweeping than what anyone expected. The results would stun everyone – and have wide-ranging implications that spread across the nation.

It’s probably pretty safe to say that, in the days before the alliance’s formation, almost no one could have envisioned the existence of a coalition between Welsh coal miners and London’s gay community, let alone anything that these unlikely collaborators would eventually accomplish. However, Mark believed in that possibility, which, thanks to the conscious creation process, is what made it happen. The power of Ashton’s beliefs, combined with those of his cohorts and his divine creative partner, brought into being what most people likely couldn’t have foreseen. And the success of that seemingly improbable manifestation was so potent that it ultimately led to both an end to the strike and the birth of legally protected civil rights for members of the U.K.’s gay community.

Some beliefs.

For those who actively practice conscious creation, however, these results really shouldn’t come as a surprise. The beliefs that fostered these outcomes are, at their core, indicative of what it takes to make the process work, no matter what materialization is being sought. The scope of what was created here may be of a magnitude greater than what many of us typically would envision, but, at bottom, these outcomes have roots that arise from the same basic source that we use in conceiving and realizing any sought-after manifestation – our beliefs.

Perhaps the difference between this situation and most others is that the miners and the LGSM members had the vision to employ a broader view, one that draws upon several additional components of the conscious creation process. For instance, the creators at work here were willing to think outside the box, to draw upon beliefs that overcame the limitations that had been allowed to hold sway for so long. Exceeding those self-imposed barriers may take some expansion of one’s thinking, but, as the outcomes illustrate, the effort was clearly well worth it.

One of the keys to success in overcoming limited beliefs is to learn how to turn “negatives” into positives. If we indeed create everything that appears in our reality, then that would also include those elements we might see as setbacks or impediments. But their appearance in our existence, no matter how disappointing they may be, must be intended to serve some particular purpose, one destined to lead us to some as-yet-unforeseen favorable outcome; otherwise, we wouldn’t have manifested these phenomena in the first place.

The trick here is to recognize these circumstances and to figure out how to transform them. This is akin to the idea of making lemonade from life’s proverbial lemons. The LGSM members do this routinely in the film, such as when their meeting place – a London gay bookstore – is attacked by rock-throwing hooligans who unabashedly call them perverts, a term used by conservative members of the press to discredit them (and the miners) when word of their alliance is made public. However, rather than cower in fear and embarrassment, Mark encourages his peers to embrace the disparagement, even going so far as to use the term in the name of a fundraiser for the miners called “Pits and Perverts,” a name alluding to both factions of the coalition. The event, which featured a performance by the iconic gay band Bronski Beat, would prove to be a resounding success.

Part of the reason why such events and initiatives were so successful lies with the characters’ awareness of our inherent connectedness. In tapping into that component of the process, it helps immensely if we’re aware of our innate propensity for cooperation, a quality that some behavioral researchers have found is actually part of our intrinsic nature (as noted in the excellent Tom Shadyac documentary, “I Am” (2010)). By drawing upon cooperation in favor of competition, we significantly increase the likelihood of not only materializing what we seek, but also of exceeding our expectations, sometimes much more so than we could have imagined.

Mark is particularly aware of the importance of this. He discusses this notion with Dai in one especially poignant scene in which he explains why he’s brought the miners and the gay community together. Having grown up in Northern Ireland during the days of its internal strife, Mark said that no one spoke to one another during those violent times, creating an artificially imposed sense of separation that was difficult to overcome. He then added that he didn’t want to see the same happen to his newly adopted community in its relations with other parts of society (hence his plan for the alliance). In turn, Dai explained that the mining community had a long-established tradition of partners helping one another in times of need, a principle symbolized by a simple handshake. If one party benefits from another’s benevolence, Dai said, it’s incumbent upon the recipient of such magnanimity to return the favor when the need arises. And, as this film’s narrative plays out, it’s obvious these principles are at work in both communities in many ways, thanks to the beliefs driving their respective co-created manifestations.

Sometimes, however, success in this regard requires us to make others aware of our connectedness, especially if they can’t see it for themselves. This can be fostered by pointing out the relevance behind the connections, particularly when they may not be obvious. For instance, Mark is asked at one point why the gay community should support the miners, given that the nexus between these two disparate communities may not be apparent at first glance. Mark couches his response in practical terms to shine a light on the relevance of the innate connection between these groups: Miners, he says, produce coal, which is used to generate the electricity needed to power the clubs that members of the gay community attend so that they can dance to the music of Bananarama all night long. (Connection clarified.)

In taking a broader view like this, our inherent connectedness to everything in our reality thus becomes clear. Even elements that seem unrelated and far removed from one another are suddenly seen in a new light. Given that, we have an opportunity to gain a new perspective on our existence and everything in it. We might even come to see how its totality exceeds the sum of its parts, an insight that makes it possible for us to attain an entirely new appreciation for the world we create and experience.

With that new awareness, we also have an opportunity to value what we manifest. Of course, to get the most out of the experience, we’d be wise to do so with a sense of integrity, to materialize the reality we seek from a standpoint of truth and honesty. And, if we succeed at this, it just may be possible to take a cue from the film’s title and truly take pride in what we ultimately create, no matter what segment of society we come from.

“Pride” is an absolute knockout – well written, beautifully filmed and nicely paced – and the film delivers its message without ever becoming preachy, heavy-handed or schmaltzy. Its performances are terrific across the board, with especially fine portrayals turned in by Schnetzer, West, Staunton, Gunning and Nighy. The picture also does an excellent job of capturing the look and feel of the early ʼ80s, particularly in its depiction of the era’s changing attitudes toward such gay community issues as coming out, social tolerance and the emerging AIDS crisis, as well as public perceptions of the organized labor movement.

The film was released without much fanfare, and it’s currently playing in somewhat limited release (primarily at theaters specializing in independent cinema), so finding it may take some effort. However, “Pride” is definitely worth the search, as it’s one of the best movies released so far this year. For its efforts, the picture won the Queer Palm award at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

I truly appreciate films that inspire as this one does. As a member of the gay community, it would be easy to say that I like this film just for its positive portrayal of my tribe, but that would be shortchanging everything else this picture has to offer. It stirs in so many ways, regardless of who we are and how we identify ourselves, engendering an uplifting sense of fulfillment. Indeed, it’s an enlightening, inspiring movie whose message we would all be wise to heed. And, if we do, that’s something in which we can all take pride.

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