Thursday, June 25, 2015

Conventional wisdom challenged in ‘Testament of Youth’

“Testament of Youth (2015 release, 2014 production). Cast: Alicia Vikander, Taron Egerton, Colin Morgan, Kit Harington, Dominic West, Emily Watson, Miranda Richardson, Joanna Scanlan, Hayley Atwell, Anna Chancellor, Nicholas Le Prevost, Daisy Waterstone, Jonathan Bailey, Henry Garrett, Alexandra Roach, Niamh Cusack, Laura Elsworthy, Naomi Everson. Director: James Kent. Screenplay: Juliette Towhidi. Book: Vera Brittain, Testament of Youth. Web site. Trailer.

Fewer things are more potent than an idea. It may take some time and effort for it to take hold, but the impact it may ultimately have can be considerable, often far greater than anything initially imagined. This can be especially true when it comes to the birth of new social movements, notions that can affect society – and even the world – at large. A fine example of how this plays out can now be seen in the emotive new historical memoir, “Testament of Youth.”

During a time of shifts in public opinion and social values, it can be difficult to maintain the status quo, especially among those who are helping to drive those forces of change. So it was in 1914 England with Vera Brittain (Alicia Vikander), a headstrong, self-assured, independent thinker with aspirations far different from those of most women at the time. Rather than be relegated to a life of conventional marriage and homemaking, for example, Vera fought for the right to apply to Oxford to earn her college degree and become a writer, much to the consternation of her parents (Dominic West, Emily Watson). What’s more, despite the subtle matchmaking attempts of Vera’s brother, Edward (Taron Egerton), to fix her up with his friend Victor (Colin Morgan), the idealistic young nonconformist resisted these efforts, insisting that she preferred to live her life without a husband. Clearly, Vera was a force to be reckoned with.

Still, despite her many attempts at breaking out and becoming her own person, Vera also couldn’t help but be somewhat swayed by the entrenched, mainstream thinking of the time. For example, when World War I broke out, she fell in line with conventional patriotic sentiments. She even lobbied her father on her brother’s behalf to allow him to volunteer for military service, a gesture that she contended would allow Edward to aid his country’s cause and help him to mature as a man. She also began to fall for the charms of a man in uniform, Edward’s friend Roland (Kit Harington), despite her earlier proclamations of intending to remain a single, independent woman.

Nevertheless, all concessions to tradition aside, Vera zealously clung to her free-spirited outlook for the most part. She was accepted into Oxford, having employed an unconventional strategy to do so. Before long, she began her studies in earnest under the tutelage of a watchful mentor, Miss Lorimer (Miranda Richardson), a traditionalist who discreetly admired the refreshing moxie of her new student.

Shortly after enrolling, however, Vera started to have a change of heart about her schooling. Having witnessed a burgeoning number of young soldiers returning home maimed and shell-shocked, Vera felt a need to get involved and do something meaningful. She quickly concluded that pursuing an education was comparatively inconsequential, a realization that prompted her to leave school and become a volunteer nurse. Miss Lorimer and others protested this seemingly capricious impulse, but, given Vera’s strong-willed demeanor, there was no stopping her once her mind was made up. It proved to be a decision that would change her life.

During her work in an English hospital and on the front lines in France, Vera witnessed the horrors of war firsthand. While tending to the injuries of both Allied and German forces (including both Victor and Edward), she saw the atrocities of armed conflict in up-close, graphic detail. The impact it had on her was particularly poignant given that this war marked the first-time use of savagely efficient new weapons, like mustard gas, armaments capable of inflicting untold harm in ways never imagined. What’s more, given the horrific conditions of working in a battlefield hospital, with its endemic shortages of staff and supplies, Vera and her colleagues often found themselves forced to perform such procedures as makeshift amputations, gruesome tasks that they never envisioned having to do.

Needless to say, Vera’s attitudes about war were far different after the conflict than they were when the fighting began, especially in light of what she saw and the personal losses she experienced. It gave her a new perspective about combat and its impact – on both friend and foe alike – despite continued public support for such officially sanctioned madness, even in the wake of what the war cost the country in terms of lives, limbs and peace of mind. The experience thus spurred Vera to make her views heard, becoming an ardent peace activist, a virtually unknown commodity at the time. It also gave her a reason to make use of her long-languishing writing talent. She penned a memoir of her wartime ordeals titled Testament of Youth, a book that would become a best seller and set in motion a movement that would progressively gain strength throughout the 20th Century.

Unabashedly asserting one’s independence can be challenging, even under the best of circumstances. However, at a time of emerging change, when new ideas can experience considerable trouble getting off the ground, it takes persistence, confidence and gumption for such notions to find a foothold and take root. Given the herd mentality of those who resist such innovative concepts, there can be much pressure placed on the advocates of reform. But the opposition to those initiatives also usually indicates that such changes are long overdue.

In many ways, Vera embodies the foregoing. Her desire to attend college and establish a career, her wish to live an unattached life, and even her tacit support of progressive movements like women’s suffrage are all apparent as the story opens. And, after Vera’s trying experiences dealing with the war-wounded, her impassioned pacifist advocacy set her apart from most of her peers, especially when she spoke about the welfare of both allies and enemies. However, these attitudes also reflected changes that were quietly simmering in society at large. Vera’s views thus helped birth reforms in matters of both personal choice and public change, shepherding them into being at a time when needed most.

No matter which side one supports in debates like this, the outcomes in each case owe their existence to the power of belief, the means by which such manifestations materialize through the conscious creation process. Beliefs allow prevailing circumstances to become established and enable new conceptions to arise. In both cases, though, the results that emerge depend on the level of backing behind their respective intents. Adequate support either enables existing ideas to persist or for new ones to surface, with the opposite being true when sufficient reinforcement is lacking.

In implementing new manifestations, the presence of certain qualities can aid the process immeasurably. For instance, those who fearlessly adhere to their beliefs and clearly make their intentions known possess the courage to see their visions take shape. And those who go about this practice by faithfully drawing upon their heartfelt, genuine intents infuse integrity into the mix, an attribute that often allows their materializations to become expressed with greater fidelity, strength and speed.

If you need proof of the foregoing, compare the rate at which change comes into being with how long the established order is unquestioningly allowed to remain in place. Admittedly, it may take some time for new ideas to come to full fruition, but progress, in many cases, unfolds at a far more rapid pace than what most might initially expect. Indeed, as the work of activists like Vera make clear, few things are more formidable than a belief whose time has come.

To institute such change, though, we must often think outside of conventional bounds to see our intents realized. This may involve some seemingly unlikely, perhaps even painful, undertakings for those notions to become materialized. For example, would Vera’s fervent pacifist advocacy have come about were it not for her wartime experience? While some might like to believe that there must be an easier way to achieve the goal of peace than to go through the horror of war, many of us, for what it’s worth, may nevertheless need to have the conflict experience before we’re able to conceive of a more viable alternative. War may truly be hell, but what it ultimately births may prove to be an unimagined blessing in disguise.

Recognizing and making use of synchronicities can also prove quite fortuitous to this process. For instance, would Vera’s activism have had the same impact if she hadn’t also possessed the ability to make her views known through her writing? It’s interesting to note how she was willing to shelve the development of this talent when she saw a need to pursue the higher priority of becoming involved in the war effort, probably not realizing at the time that drawing upon this skill would come back to play a vital role in her life later on. As she moved through these seemingly disparate, unrelated phases in her life, Vera likely couldn’t see how they would eventually come together to connect. Yet, because of the coalescence of such skills and experiences, she would go on to make quite an impact, in ways that she probably never envisioned before living through the sequence of events of her life.

Vera’s story thus provides a prime example of living out our value fulfillment. This conscious creation concept has to do with living our lives in line with our best, truest selves for the benefit of both ourselves and those around us. Ms. Brittain may not have brought about an end to armed conflict, just as World War I may not have been the war to end all wars. However, by bringing attention to the issue of warfare’s horrendous consequences, she helped frame one of the century’s most profound, meaningful social movements. We should all have such impact.

“Testament of Youth” is one of the more pleasant surprises of the summer movie season. The film has not received much fanfare, and its trailer, regrettably, doesn’t do the picture justice. Yet this underrated offering delivers its message with impassioned sincerity in a beautifully filmed package with superb period piece production values. Alicia Vikander delivers yet another fine performance, adding significantly to what is becoming an impressive cinematic résumé. And, even though the film drags a bit in the first 45 minutes, with too much emphasis on Vera’s vacillating romantic inclinations, the picture improves significantly as it progresses toward its inspiring conclusion.

Challenging the conventional wisdom can be an uphill battle, especially when it has been locked in place for a long time. However, the rewards that come from dispensing with outmoded ideas can be incalculable, especially when preferable alternatives are allowed to become established. Putting new initiatives into place requires the commitment of advocates like Vera Brittain, but, as the results often show, the outcome is certainly worth the effort.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

'Consciously Created Cinema' in Nexus magazine

I'm thrilled to announce that my second book, Consciously Created Cinema: The Movie Lover's Guide to the Law of Attraction, has been reviewed in the latest edition of Nexus magazine! To find out more, click here.

Cover design by Paul L. Clark, Inspirtainment

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Check out Reviewers Roundtable

Find out the latest about some great new books and movies by checking out the summer edition of Reviewers Roundtable on New Consciousness Review radio, featuring Miriam Knight, Cynthia Sue Larson and yours truly. The one-hour broadcast includes looks at eight new books and my reviews of three terrific films, "Selma," "She's Beautiful When She's Angry" and "Pride." Tune in by clicking here.

Friday, June 19, 2015

‘Me and Earl’ explores finding one’s place in the world

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (2015). Cast: Thomas Mann, RJ Cyler, Olivia Cooke, Nick Offerman, Connie Britton, Molly Shannon, Jon Bernthal, Katherine C. Hughes, Matt Bennett, Masam Holden, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Gavin Dietz, Edward DeBruce III. Director: Alfonso Gomez-Rejon. Screenplay: Jesse Andrews. Book: Jesse Andrews, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl. Web site. Trailer.

Finding one’s place in the world can be a daunting challenge, especially when ideas of how to do so are elusive. But sometimes our inspiration comes from the unlikeliest of circumstances. That’s the scenario that unfolds in the engaging new comedy-drama, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.”

High school senior Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) desperately wants to fit in with his classmates. But, given the many diverse subcultures that make up the student body at Pittsburgh’s Schenley High, he can’t decide which group to call his tribe. As a consequence, he spends most of his time hiding out in a sort of social anonymity, developing only superficial associations with his peers. In fact, about the only person he considers a friend is his longtime buddy Earl Jackson (RJ Cyler), a childhood pal with whom he clandestinely makes short films parodying classic works of cinema. But, even with this creative diversion, Greg’s life generally lacks direction, purpose and a sense of connection – distressing conditions for someone on the brink of adulthood.

Three young friends (from left), Rachel (Olivia Cooke), Greg (Thomas Mann) and Earl (RJ Cyler), face circumstances that force them to grow up faster than expected in the engaging new comedy-drama, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Greg’s teenage ennui troubles those who care about him, most notably his hip, tattoo-clad history teacher, Mr. McCarthy (Jon Bernthal), and his loving but kooky parents (Connie Britton, Nick Offerman). They look for ways to shake Greg out of his adolescent funk, most of which have little impact. But that all begins to change when Greg’s mom asks a favor destined to set him on a new path.

When Greg’s mom learns from her friend Denise (Molly Shannon) that her daughter Rachel (Olivia Cooke) has been diagnosed with leukemia, she asks Greg to spend some time with her to lift her spirits. Greg initially balks at the idea, claiming that he barely knows Rachel and has no clue how to cheer her up. But mom has confidence in her son, and, thanks to her gentle persuasion, she eventually coaxes him into paying Rachel a visit.

Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann, left), a high school senior lacking direction, purpose and connection in life, receives an interesting suggestion from his loving but kooky parents (Nick Offerman, center, Connie Britton, right) in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

The initial meeting between Greg and Rachel is strained, to say the least. However, when Rachel learns about Greg and Earl’s film projects, she’s intrigued. In fact, their silly little movies are one of the few things that make her laugh in the face of her circumstances. Before long, Greg and Rachel, with Earl in tow, become the best of friends. What’s more, Greg slowly begins to find himself and his place in the world. But, as Rachel’s condition worsens, the strength of that bond and of Greg’s emerging sense of self-awareness get seriously tested.

With Rachel’s illness progressing, her health and spirits deteriorate. The same can be said of Greg’s academic standing; while spending more of his time trying to lift Rachel’s mood, he lets his schoolwork lapse. Offering Rachel encouragement increasingly drains him of ideas, too. But, just when he seems to be fresh out of ways to cheer her up, one of Rachel’s friends, Madison (Katherine C. Hughes), comes up with a proposal that draws on one of Greg’s strengths: She suggests that he and Earl make one of their movies just for Rachel.

The challenge of creating a suitable film for someone in Rachel’s condition is understandably trying. That difficulty is compounded by Greg’s conflicted, questioning state of mind. The strain of these circumstances soon becomes apparent, affecting Greg’s attempts to understand it all, not to mention the nature of his relationships with Rachel, with Earl and, most of all, with himself.

Being asked to grow up faster than expected seems patently unfair, both for those witnessing it, as well as those living through it. That’s certainly the case for Rachel and Greg, as well as those who care about them. But, under those dire conditions, how we respond is what truly matters most.

Denise Kushner (Molly Shannon), the boozy single mother of a daughter diagnosed with leukemia, struggles to cope with her circumstances in the engaging new comedy-drama, “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Under such circumstances, our responses depend on our beliefs, thoughts and intents, the basis of the conscious creation process, which serves to frame the reality we ultimately experience. These powerful forces determine what we draw into our existence to address these (and all of the other) conditions of life. And, given that, one would hope that we choose those beliefs carefully, for they will be faithfully reflected in what materializes around us. This is the law of attraction at work in its most basic expression.

The scenarios that Rachel and Greg have manifested are by no means enviable and certainly full of challenges, but they also offer powerful opportunities for personal growth and life lessons. The protagonists serve as mirrors for one another, too, as they move through their respective ordeals. For example, when the story begins, Greg seems to have all but given up on himself and his future. But, when he befriends Rachel, he finds a purpose. So, when Rachel’s condition begins to slide and she questions the value of continuing her treatment, she seems to give up, something that raises Greg’s ire and represents a complete turnaround from where he began. In her own way, Rachel thus provides the inspiration her friend needs to make something of his life. Witnessing such circumstances is undoubtedly painful, but it’s something Greg needed to experience to get his existence back on track.

Circumstances like these also help to put matters in perspective. At the film’s outset, for instance, Greg worries (i.e., whines) about how to fit in. But, through his friendship with Rachel, he comes to realize how the importance of some beliefs can be vastly overblown. After all, fretting over one’s high school social standing is, arguably, nowhere nearly as traumatizing as experiencing cancer. Rachel’s experience makes that apparent for Greg. And, whenever Greg is tempted to backslide and wallow in his own self-pity, Earl comes along to provide much-needed splashes of cold water to shake up his friend and get him to come back to “reality.”

When Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann, right) is faced with a dearth of ideas on how to cheer up his ill friend, Rachel (Olivia Cooke, left), he receives an interesting proposal from her friend, Madison (Katherine C. Hughes, center), in “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Perhaps most importantly, though, manifestations like these enable us to face our fears, a crucial aspect of our continued personal growth. It doesn’t really matter that we may even be afraid of these circumstances as we approach them; what matters most is that we form and embrace beliefs to muster up the courage to do so, thereby affording ourselves an opportunity to move through whatever is holding us back in furthering our personal progress. It also allows us to overcome the pitfalls of practices like wishful thinking, which ultimately provide false comfort and can delay (or even derail) our efforts at growing as fully realized beings. After all, if we’re unable to face our fears in getting through life, how might we ever do so to get through death?

“Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” is excellent all the way around, a young adult story that rises above most typical YA fare, with an intriguing, engaging style reminiscent of films like “(500) Days of Summer”. Its emotive screenplay is deeply affecting, evoking a range of moods and viewer reactions, but without ever resorting to cheap, manipulative sentimentality. The ensemble cast features fine performances across the board, especially among the three young leads and their parental counterparts. You’ll want to keep those hankies handy, too, just in case.

Despite the picture’s serious undertone, it provides ample humor, too. It draws upon a variety of means to get laughs, especially in its clips from Greg and Earl’s classic film parodies. Movie buffs will surely appreciate the hilarious snippets featured from productions like “A Sockwork Orange,” “Senior Citizen Kane,” “My Dinner with Andre the Giant” and “Brew Velvet,” among others. Such humor contributed to the accolades the picture earned earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival, where it captured the event’s Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize.

The quest to fulfill our destiny may be filled with unexpected twists and turns. However, the fulfillment that comes from such a journey may be unattainable by other means, providing us with what we need, even when that outcome doesn’t seem likely. Trusting in ourselves and the reality we create will get us where we need to go, be it in matters of both life and death. And, if that doesn’t make our existence worthwhile in the end, I don’t know what would.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

‘Love & Mercy’ probes creative discernment

“Love & Mercy” (2014 production, 2015 release). Cast: Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, Paul Giamatti, Jake Abel, Kenny Wormald, Brett Davern, Graham Rogers, Max Schneider, Erin Darke, Bill Camp, Johnny Sneed, Diana Maria Riva, Fred Cross, Oliver Pohlad. Director: Bill Pohlad. Screenplay: Oren Moverman and Michael Alan Lerner. Story: The life story of Brian Wilson. Web site. Trailer.

Learning selectivity can be challenging in almost any undertaking. That’s especially true if we lack the means to effectively sort through the many options available to us. In fact, without such a filter, we may quickly find ourselves overwhelmed, circumstances that can have devastating consequences, as seen in the engaging new biopic, “Love & Mercy.”

In the early 1960s, the Beach Boys made a huge splash on the American pop music scene with their distinctive California sound and catchy surfer tunes. The driving force behind the group was founder Brian Wilson (Paul Dano), who assembled the band with his brothers Dennis (Kenny Wormald) and Carl (Brett Davern), cousin Mike Love (Jake Abel), and friend Al Jardine (Graham Rogers). Within a short time, the group’s popularity exploded, quickly becoming a national, and then global, phenomenon.

By 1965, however, things began to change. First, Brian and his brothers fired the group’s manager, their domineering, manipulative father, Murry Wilson (Bill Camp). Then Brian announced that he had tired of touring and wanted to spend more of his time in the studio, working on innovative new sounds. Clearly he was an artist in transition, but his emerging creative sensibilities told only part of the story.

Musically speaking, Brian began work on compositions for a bold new album titled Pet Sounds. He wanted to replace the kitschy surfer songs that had long characterized the band’s repertoire with a more intricate, more sophisticated, more heartfelt sound, as evidenced by pieces like the soulful ballad, “God Only Knows.” What’s more, the tracks on this LP included different instrumentation from previous efforts, such as the rich orchestration of the studio musicians known as the Wrecking Crew, as well as inventive sound effects never before committed to vinyl. The album was a radical departure for the Beach Boys – and for American pop music in general.

However, while Brian thought he was on to something, not everyone agreed. His band mates (especially Mike Love) were skeptical about this new musical direction, a reservation borne out when Pet Sounds flopped commercially (despite critical acclaim and high praise from fellow musicians like the Beatles). Many thus began to wonder about the Beach Boys’ future. But, as quickly became apparent, this concern had to do with more than changes in the music; it also had to do with changes going on with Brian.

The new sounds that Brian had been envisioning seemed to come from out of nowhere. That’s because they flowed into his head effortlessly. While some might have welcomed the gift of such unsolicited genius, it became troubling for Wilson when he found he couldn’t turn it off. Ideas for new songs, as well as ideas for a range of other new projects, flooded his mind continually. That constant barrage of creative input, coupled with the fallout from experimenting with drugs and the impact of a host of other unresolved demons, took their toll on his mental state, leading him into a life of seclusion and a series of breakdowns that went on for years.

By the mid 1980s, a now-older Brian (John Cusack) fought to get his life back on track. He had hopes of reviving his music career, and he sought to re-engage with the everyday world of the living. He even met a new love interest, former model Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks), who was full of compassion for the struggling soul.

But, no matter what progress Brian made, it seemed as though he could never quite pull it all together. He was often anxious, sometimes despondent and occasionally paranoid. And, even though he was under the care of well-known Los Angeles psychotherapist Dr. Gene Landy (Paul Giamatti), it became apparent that the “treatment” Brian received was as much a part of the problem as his psychological ills. In fact, over time, it almost seemed as though he was backsliding into the despair that once left him bedridden for over two years. But Brian’s resolve was strong. And now, with a valuable ally at his side, he at last had an opportunity to make it all the way back.

As many artistic types can attest, being creative isn’t always easy. Indeed, as the Roman dramatist and philosopher Seneca the Elder observed, “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.” And, as this film shows, Brian Wilson experienced that firsthand, though some might contend that more than just a “touch” of madness was involved.

So how did this boundless creativity drive him to the brink? In his exuberance to birth something new, Brian left himself open to let the inspiration flow. Others could clearly see this, too, such as Wrecking Crew drummer Hal Blaine (Johnny Sneed), who unabashedly labeled Wilson a genius. However, leaving himself open was also something that Brian did perhaps a little too well. With his artistic source tapped and no apparent filter in place to sort the incoming revelations, Brian became overwhelmed.

Those who practice conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we create our reality through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents, understand the potency of those forces and the need to manage them effectively. This is especially true when it comes to the elements that shape our beliefs, namely, our intuitive and intellectual impulses. Making use of both of these sources in a tempered, balanced fashion allows beliefs to form that serve us well as we manifest our existence (and everything within it). But, if we allow either element to get out of whack, problems are sure to arise, and so it was with Brian.

Given the incessant stream of creative ideas that flowed into Brian’s mind (many of which seemed to appear entirely unsolicited), it’s apparent that he had no trouble accessing his intuitive side. However, with little or no mechanism in place to temper such unrestrained input – a deficiency in his intellect’s screening capabilities – there was nothing to stop or even curtail the constant flood of intuitive impulses. With his mind relentlessly racing from one idea to another, the “voices” in Brian’s head slowly began to overtake him – and his sanity.

Ironically, for most conscious creators, it’s the intellect that’s usually too strong, often easily overpowering the seemingly “less rational” intuition. In many ways, these reversed circumstances made Brian’s situation rather unusual (though the effect was no less debilitating).

Scenarios like this reveal the importance of developing our power of discernment, a key component in honing our conscious creation skills. It helps us sort the deluge of intellectual and intuitive impulses that come our way, helping us strike a balance in forming the beliefs we use to create our respective realities. And it comes in handy in virtually every aspect of the manifestation process, from the works of art we create to the relationships we forge with others and everything in between.

In Brian’s case, his underdeveloped power of discernment is readily apparent, most notably in his compositional efforts. However, it’s also present in other aspects of his life, such as in his relationships with authority figures. It’s obvious, for example, that he had his share of issues with his father, some of which were never resolved (even after he and his brothers fired Murry as their manager). The beliefs associated with the creation of his failure to do so, and his lack of discernment in recognizing their ongoing presence, carried over years later into his relationship with Gene Landy. The association between Brian and his therapist had many of the same dynamics as the one Wilson had with his dad, and the patterns present in his childhood were still in place in adulthood. These circumstances were thus destined to remain firmly entrenched until Brian developed the skill to see them in a different light. His experience in this regard should serve as a powerful cautionary tale to any of us conscious creators who are lacking in the same regard.

Discernment is more than just helping us spot what we don’t need; it helps us identify what we do, too, as long as we recognize its usefulness and how to employ it. For example, a well-developed sense of discernment would have significantly helped Brian realize what he needed to draw into his life to make his existence better. Chief among those needs was compassion, a trait to support him through his travails as he worked them out. But, in the absence of a working command of his discernment skills, instead of compassion he frequently drew criticism, as seen in the comments about his music offered by his father and his cousin and the sometimes-hostile therapy tactics used by Landy. For someone desperately requiring grace and compassion, criticism and abuse are the last things one needs.

This is where Melinda’s involvement proved invaluable. She provided the much-needed empathy to help him turn his life around. She helped trigger his sense of discernment, making it possible for him to begin to realize what he did and didn’t need in his life. But, perhaps most importantly, she helped him see that he was not alone, that he was part of something bigger that binds all of us to one another, a connection that enables us to get by, no matter what challenges may cross our paths. In that sense, she gave Brian what he needed most – love and mercy. If Brian’s experience teaches us nothing else, it should be that we need to develop the capacity for drawing compassion into our lives when we need it most, an invaluable lesson that can help us get through those tough times when everything seems irretrievably stacked against us.

When I first saw the trailer for “Love & Mercy,” I wasn’t especially impressed. Having been only a passing fan of the band’s music and sensing this release to be yet another film celebrating the recovery of a fallen celebrity icon, the impression the preview left on me was lukewarm at best. But, after seeing the picture, I couldn’t have been more wrong.

“Love & Mercy” is easily the best film of 2015 thus far. Director Bill Pohlad has pulled off a masterful coup with this picture, telling two compelling stories about the same character in one seamlessly interwoven vehicle. In doing so, the filmmaker took a number of chances creatively, such as casting two different leads to portray one protagonist at different points in his life, a risky move that pays off handsomely in the superb performances turned in by Dano and Cusack, each turning in perhaps their best-ever on-screen work. Pohlad also employed innovative tactics in the film’s cinematography, editing and soundtrack, significantly raising the stakes for what a biopic is truly capable of achieving.

The film does a fine job in other regards, too. Its character development is excellent across the board, but not just for the story’s lead. The portrayals of Melinda, Gene and Murry are all sufficiently fleshed out, thanks in large part to the great performances of Banks, Giamatti and Camp. The picture also avoids the temptation to depict its protagonist monodimensionally, showing Brian not only at his most pitiable but also when on top of his game as a consummate artist (exemplified best in the film’s recording studio scenes, where viewers are treated to views of a talented musician working magic with his peers). This combination of attributes makes “Love & Mercy” much more than what it might seem superficially – and a film well worthy of one’s viewing time.

Finding the right mix of elements we need to form the beliefs integral to the creation of our reality can be difficult, even under the best of circumstances. But, when we’re missing some of the components to make the process work, we may quickly find ourselves incapable of carrying on. It’s at times like that when qualities like compassion and discernment can prove invaluable. Let us hope that, if we ever experience such conditions, that we’ll draw to us the love and mercy we need to help us see our way clear.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Explore 'Cinematic Probabilities'

Check out "Cinematic Probabilities," my latest article about conscious creation and the movies, in the latest edition of New Consciousness Review magazine, available on pp. 52-54, by clicking here.

‘In My Dreams’ assesses matters of perspective

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” (2015). Cast: Blythe Danner, Sam Elliott, June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place, Martin Starr, Malin Akerman, Mark Adair-Rios, Max Gail. Director: Brett Haley. Screenplay: Marc Basch and Brett Haley. Web site. Trailer.

Are you happy with your life? Does it bring you the satisfaction and fulfillment you seek? Or does it fall below expectations? If it comes up short, why do you think that’s so? Answers to these thorny questions may be elusive, but, when they reveal themselves, they may be full of surprises, especially when it comes to identifying who’s responsible for the nature of one’s existence. It’s an unlikely subject for exploration in a romantic comedy-drama, but that’s just what happens in the new heartfelt release, “I'll See You in My Dreams.”

Carol Petersen (Blythe Danner) knows a lot about love and loss. Having been widowed 20 years earlier, when her adoring husband was tragically killed in a plane crash, the spry 70-something now spends most of her days on her own, living alone in a small but comfortable home. She has a close circle of card-playing friends who live in a nearby retirement community (June Squibb, Rhea Perlman, Mary Kay Place), and she periodically receives visits from her daughter, Kath (Malin Akerman). But the fear of being hurt again is so strong that she rarely ventures outside her limited daily routine. It’s all very controlled and very safe but also very lonely.

Carol seems resigned to her fate (albeit with an often-forced cheerful resolve). Her friends try to involve her more in life, encouraging her to partake in activities like speed dating and going on group vacations. She appreciates their intentions, and sometimes she even follows their suggestions. For the most part, though, she’s content being a hermit. However, when more losses occur – most notably the passing of her faithful dog, Hazel – she finds she can’t hide from life’s disappointments forever.

Quite unexpectedly, Carol receives several significant nudges encouraging her to become re-engaged with life. First, she develops a chummy drinking buddy relationship with her youthful new pool man, Lloyd (Martin Starr), an aspiring musician in search of himself who feels a nearly constant sense of disappointment when things don’t work out in his career. Having been in the music business herself at one point, Carol identifies with his circumstances. But, more importantly, she feels for Lloyd, believing him to be far too young to be so woefully hopeless. She periodically joins him for drinks and karaoke sessions to prop up his spirits, opportunities for her to hear what he’s got – and through which she can show off what she can still do.

An even bigger surprise comes when she meets Bill Young (Sam Elliott), a handsome, sexy, wealthy retiree who lives in the same community as her bridge partners. The attraction and chemistry between the two is palpable and nearly instantaneous, but Carol shows some hesitation, fearing how she might react if things don’t work out. But, despite such reluctance, she also realizes that she’s still in the world of the living and that, if she wants the remainder of her time to be worthwhile, she had better become involved in it. The question she must ask herself, though, “Is that the right decision?”

Carol’s experience offers an excellent examination of matters of perspective. How does (or should) she respond to the circumstances that present themselves? Is disappointment something that gives us justification to retreat into solitude? Or is it something that’s part and parcel of life that we must learn to live with? Rolling with the punches might not be easy for many of us, but is it proper to let despair define our outlook on our existence? That is what Carol must come to decide.

Working through such circumstances could be considerably easier if we realize that our reactions are based on our beliefs, which, according to conscious creation theory, dictate the nature of the reality we experience. If Carol were to believe, based on what she’s gone through, that life inherently sucks, then she’ll get an existence in line with such thinking. However, if she were to believe that happiness and satisfaction are indeed possible, then it’s just as likely her reality will embody those qualities instead.

Under circumstances like these, it’s also important to understand how those conditions arise in the first place. Like all of us, Carol’s reality is based on her beliefs, which are faithfully reflected in the world around her. That scenario may not always be pleasant, but it does provide her with a valuable opportunity for a significant life lesson associated with the foregoing principles. If she has created those conditions, then there must have been some part of her who wanted to gain that experience, no matter how difficult it is at times.

Realizing that is relevant for two reasons. First, it provides us a better understanding of how physical reality works. It’s inherently filled with highs and lows, and the sooner we come to accept that, the more we’ll be able to glean from the experience. Naïvely embracing viewpoints that life is all positive or all negative doesn’t give us a true picture of how this form of existence operates. We can’t appreciate the sunshine, for example, without also experiencing the rain. The same applies across all of life’s events, and the sooner we understand and accept this, the better off we’ll be to make the most of this expression of reality.

Second, this realization introduces us to the concept of living in the moment. As conscious creation advocate Jane Roberts contended in her writings, the only point in time over which we have any direct control is the present. The past is behind us, and the future is yet to arrive (and could take myriad unforeseen forms). Yet many of us mistakenly try to take up residence in those other time frames, allowing them to skew our perspectives. We may be able to shape the direction in which our life heads, but that will ultimately be based on the beliefs we hold about it, many of which could be influenced by our past. Consequently, if we were to find our prevailing beliefs stuck in the malaise of disappointing circumstances that we experienced previously, it’s not unrealistic to think that we might continue to draw upon them in our present to characterize the future that lies ahead. Is that something we really want to do? As Roberts often observed, the point of power is in the present, so we had better make best use of that principle if we want to realize an existence that’s in line with our wishes.

If Carol wants to make the most of her life, such awareness is crucial. She’s spent much of the past two decades trapped by beliefs that life is typified by loss. First there was giving up her music career, then there was the death of her husband and then the passing of Hazel. But what of the friendship of her card partners? Her loving daughter? Her new drinking buddy? Her health and vitality? And, now, Bill (a name, ironically enough, shared by her deceased husband)? Those elements of her life surely can’t be characterized as “losses,” but do Carol’s beliefs allow her to fully appreciate those manifestations? She’s certainly got something to think about – as do we when it comes to assessing our own circumstances. The lesson may be coming to her rather well on into her life, but, as they say, better late than never.

“I’ll See You in My Dreams” is an emotional, heart-tugging comedy-drama that drives home its points well, even if it does so in an overly talky manner at times. Some well-considered tweaks in the writing and editing would have helped a lot in this regard. To its credit, the film makes effective use of comic relief, showing us the lighter moments we can enjoy in life (provided we allow ourselves to see them that way). The picture also features terrific performances across the board, especially Danner, who is already being looked on as a possible awards season contender. She has a terrific chemistry with the remainder of the ensemble, who turn in some of their best work here as well.

Owning our existence is something we all must do if we’re to understand how the reality we experience arises in our lives. That may not always be easy, but, when we embrace a perspective on life that accurately reflects its true nature, we give ourselves an opportunity to live it to the fullest. Should we do that, we’ll realize a richness of experience that we may have never thought possible, something that’s especially important when our days are waning. But, whether we learn the lesson early or later on in life, what matters most is that we get it, to make all those dreams come true.

Copyright © 2015, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.