Thursday, September 24, 2015

‘Pawn Sacrifice’ urges belief discipline, management

“Pawn Sacrifice” (2014 production, 2015 release). Cast: Tobey Maguire, Liev Schreiber, Peter Sarsgaard, Michael Stuhlbarg, Lily Rabe, Robin Weigert, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick, Aiden Lovekamp, Sophie Nélisse, Conrad Pla, Evelyne Brochu, Igor Ovadis, Bobo Vian. Archive Footage: Dick Cavett. Director: Edward Zwick. Screenplay: Steven Knight. Story: Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson and Steven Knight. Web site. Trailer.

It can be a wonderful feeling when our heads are filled with ideas. Envisioning and considering the possibilities is an often-exhilarating experience, enthusiastically infusing our minds with a tantalizing array of prospects. This is especially true for those seeking to map out strategies for achieving particular objectives. But the process can also become easily overwhelming, leaving those once-excited heads spinning perilously out of control. Such are the circumstances detailed in the captivating new historical drama, “Pawn Sacrifice.”

In 1972, the world was mesmerized by a seemingly unlikely event – a chess tournament. To be sure, this time-honored “game of kings” had long had more than its ample share of followers, but, in this match, the stakes were higher than just proving which participant was the better competitive strategist. The contest pitted Soviet world champion Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber) against upstart American challenger Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) at the height of the Cold War. The competition was a sort of proxy conflict between the two nations, with their respective representatives serving as surrogate warriors. And the event’s understood though unstated aim was to prove to the world which side was intellectually superior – and thus worthy of allegedly deserved respect and admiration.

While the planet was spellbound with what was transpiring on this improbable global stage, there was an even more fascinating story unfolding behind the scenes, particularly where America’s contender was concerned. It was an unusual tale that began years before the tournament, eventually culminating in a tense, often-bizarre series of events in which a host of considerations ranging from geopolitical perceptions and personal sanity came up for grabs. And that back story, told largely through flashbacks, provides the basis for the narrative of this film.

Growing up in Brooklyn in the 1950s, a young Bobby Fischer (Aiden Lovekamp) and his half-sister, Joan (Sophie Nélisse), were raised (albeit somewhat haphazardly) by their single mother, Regina (Robin Weigert), a Jewish nonconformist who enjoyed the company of many suitors and fellow freethinkers, including a number of left-wing sympathizers. Regina had a variety of ambitions, such as entering politics, but, because of her ideological leanings, she believed she was the subject of covert government surveillance during the rise of McCarthyism. Given his mother’s freewheeling lifestyle, Bobby was often left in the care of his sister or on his own, spending much time alone. It was during such periods of solitude that he took up the game that would become his passion – and his obsession.

As a teen (Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick), Bobby sharpened his skills, becoming the game’s youngest-ever grandmaster. He began participating in world-class tournaments, rising through the ranks on the global chess stage. But, as his standing as a world-ranked competitor grew, so, too, did his reputation for being outspoken, such as when he publicly called out the Soviets for underhanded, unfair, collusive practices during international matches, accusing them of manipulative tactics that essentially ensured continued Russian dominance of the game. He subsequently withdrew from competition, refusing to play under such conditions.

Despite these objections, however, Bobby couldn’t stay away from the chess board. So, when he was approached to resume competing by attorney Paul Marshall (Michael Stuhlbarg), who offered to serve as Fischer’s manager, Bobby agreed to come out of his self-imposed retirement. With the support of Marshall and coach Father Bill Lombardy (Peter Sarsgaard), Bobby rejoined the world chess circuit, participating in tournaments aimed at grooming him for taking on the Russian greats, including world champion Boris Spassky.

To get Bobby back into the game, Marshall did virtually whatever it took to appease his client’s wishes, demands that grew progressively more numerous, insistent and capricious over time. But Marshall was willing to go along with these whims to see his goal realized, an objective with an agenda greater than just promoting the success of an aspiring chess champion. Marshall saw the geopolitical implications if Bobby were to prevail over the Soviets, along with the personal spoils that would come his way from furthering such a noble pursuit. And, as a somewhat shadowy figure believed to have highly placed U.S. government connections, he was able to pull the necessary strings to grant Bobby’s wishes.

Bobby’s success made him an overnight sensation, his popularity elevated to that of a rock star. His celebrity earned him numerous interview requests, including from such high-profile television programs as 60 Minutes and The Dick Cavett Show. Who would have thought a chess player would attain such acclaim?

However, as the stakes progressively grew, the pressure on Bobby began to mount, taking a severe toll on his mental state. Given the circumstances under which he was competing, he began to feel paranoid, seeing conspiracies at every turn. He believed a cabal of Communists (and, ironically enough, Jews) were out to get him. He became convinced that his opponents and their minions were engaged in clandestine activities to monitor his communications, poison his food, control his mind and blow up his plane. He even began to suspect that his closest advisors were part of the plot against him, with his sister (Lily Rabe) being the only person he felt he could trust. In short, Bobby thought he was being manipulated like one of the pieces on his chess board, and the pressure was pushing him toward a breakdown.

Still, despite these challenging circumstances, Fischer’s handlers successfully managed to convince him to compete in the world chess championship against Spassky in Reykjavik, Iceland. But, with so much turmoil transpiring behind the scenes, it was unclear what the outcome would be and whether the match would even come off. The world was riveted with the high-stakes drama playing out on the chess board while those closest to Bobby held their breath over whether he’d be able to hold it all together.

As anyone who has ever played chess realizes, it’s a game of probabilities, with a virtually limitless number of possible moves. In that sense, it’s not unlike the practice of conscious creation, the means by which we manifest our realities through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. According to that philosophy, at any given moment, we have access to an infinite range of options for creating the existence we experience, depending on the beliefs we hold, all of which are capable of taking us in myriad directions – just like the moves on a chess board.

Given the nature of the game, however, assessing the range of available options can easily become overwhelming – if not maddening – something that one might argue happened to Fischer (and, to a certain extent, Spassky as well). By continually playing out the options in one’s mind, it’s easy to see how someone could become so wrapped up in the innumerable possibilities that one’s focus might turn to preoccupation and eventually mental paralysis. Under such conditions, it’s unlikely we’d be able to get anything done, becoming perpetually locked in a state of psychological atrophy.

But one need not be preoccupied with chess moves to become mired in such a state of mind. While the ability to consider and assess multiple probabilities can certainly be beneficial in our conscious creation pursuits, the ability to make effective use of our power of discernment is just as important. Indeed, anyone who is unable to effectively discern which options to explore and/or implement in a particular endeavor runs the risk of becoming irretrievably stuck. That can become especially crucial if we begin to blur the lines between what’s “real” (i.e., what we have successfully managed to manifest) and what’s “imagined” (i.e., what we have been able to envision but have not fully brought into being). It’s at this point where paranoia and delusion can set in – and where others may begin to suspect we’ve lost it.

Considering Fischer’s highly focused mindset, it’s easy to see how such circumstances might have come to pass in his life. And, when those conditions were compounded by the considerable pressure placed on him (particularly the geopolitical concerns involved), it’s amazing he didn’t crack up at the time. Unfortunately, the same could not be said about Fischer’s later years, when everything would come crashing down on him, wiping away all of his success and accomplishments. He became a sort of pariah, his incoherent ramblings leaving him isolated and destitute.

While it may be impossible to pinpoint the exact causes of Bobby’s downfall, the conditions associated with the global chess championship may have contributed significantly. Even though the tournament was billed as a showdown between Fischer and Spassky, its implications were much more far-reaching, pitting the U.S. versus the U.S.S.R., East versus West and Communism versus Capitalism – essentially a metaphorical global chess match with critical implications writ large. In that regard, the competition was, in fact, a mass event, not just a one-on-one contest, and the opposing forces’ proxy warriors were, in essence, not unlike the pawns on the field of play between them. Given that, despite the potential personal rewards at stake for each of the contestants, it’s easy to see how they might have come to feel like personified versions of the chess pieces they maneuvered around the board.

In light of the foregoing, then, is it any wonder that someone like Bobby might have come to feel unduly manipulated, that his interests were ultimately secondary to those with bigger (and possibly more nefarious and self-serving) agendas? Of course, the more stock he placed in such beliefs, the more they became reflected in the reality he believed he was experiencing. All of which helps to illustrate the power of thought – and what it can do to shape our perceived existence.

“Pawn Sacrifice” is an excellent period piece film that effectively captures the look and feel of the era, especially the seemingly omnipresent hype that was associated with this story at the time it was unfolding. Director Edward Zwick has produced a capable biopic, though at times it’s a little thin on back story, especially Fischer’s upbringing, how he became obsessed with the conspiracy theories that consumed him and how he came to know his inner circle of handlers. Nevertheless, despite this drawback, the picture features a knock-out, award-worthy performance by Maguire, as well as fine acting turns by Stuhlbarg and Schreiber. As one of the first entrants in this year’s awards season releases, this picture is an excellent offering, one that merits serious consideration by those involved in the nominating process.

Managing and disciplining our beliefs is essential to effective use of the conscious creation process. Without it, we can easily spiral out of control, losing a grip over our existence, even if it seems pregnant with possibilities. With our reality – and possibly our sanity – at stake, we need to temper our envisioning ability with practical common sense. It may be all well and good to have our heads in the clouds, but it won’t mean much if we can’t keep our feet on the ground.

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

See Me at CWC!

Anyone attending the Chicago Writers Conference this weekend? I'll be there! Look me up. And, for more information, click here.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Tune in to Reviewers Roundtable

Tune in Wednesday September 23 at 2 pm ET for the latest edition of "Reviewers Roundtable" on New Consciousness Review radio, available by clicking here. Join host Miriam Knight, reviewer Cynthia Sue Larson and yours truly when we discuss the latest in new books and films that explore various aspects of consciousness and new thought topics. Check out the show for some lively, thought-provoking chat.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Empowered Women Go to the Movies

Tune in Tuesday September 22 at 11 am ET for "Empowered Women Go to the Movies" on Smart Women Talk Radio, available by clicking here. Join host Katana Abbott when she interviews me about inspiring films featuring empowered women creating their destinies.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Two films explore different beliefs about conducting business

“Rosenwald” (2015). Interview Footage: Maya Angelou, Julian Bond, Ossie Davis, Peter Ascoli, Benjamin Jealous, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Danny Davis, Timuel Black, Rita Dove, Lester Mae Hill, Clarence Page, Gordon Parks, Cokie Roberts, Eugene Robinson, Alice Rosenwald, Elizabeth Rosenwald Varet, Tanya Bowers. Archive Footage: Julius Rosenwald, Eleanor Roosevelt, Booker T. Washington. Director: Aviva Kempner. Screenplay: Aviva Kempner. Web site. Trailer.

“Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine” (2015). Interview Footage: Chrisann Brennan, Nolan Bushnell, Kōbun Chino Otogawa, Regis McKenna, Jason Chen. Archive Footage: Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, John Sculley. Director: Alex Gibney. Screenplay: Alex Gibney. Web site. Trailer.

Opening and running a business is one of the most creative acts we can undertake. Generating wealth from the venture is undoubtedly one of the hoped-for outcomes, but other creative objectives – like producing goods and services that customers find useful and enjoyable – are just as important. Perhaps most significantly, though, the launching of these operations represents something of who we are, including our personal values and how we make use of the fruits of our labors. Such questions can be handled in a variety of ways, and two new documentaries, “Rosenwald” and “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” do just that.

“Rosenwald” tells the story of Julius (“J.R.”) Rosenwald (1862-1932), the son of a simple Jewish merchant who rose from humble beginnings in Springfield, Illinois to become president of Sears Roebuck & Co. By introducing commercial, marketing and operational innovations to the company, Rosenwald built Sears into the largest mail order and retail business of its day, essentially a 20th Century version of He became phenomenally wealthy as a result.

But Rosenwald was not one to sit on his personal fortune. As a firm believer in the Jewish ideals of tzedakah (charity) and tikkun olam (repairing the world), J.R. felt obligated to give back some of what he had amassed. He had plenty of inspiration to drive his efforts in these areas, too. Having grown up in Springfield, he and his family were neighbors of President Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), and, years later, after relocating to Chicago, he became a devoted follower of noted Rabbi Emil Hirsch (1851-1923). Thanks to these influences, Rosenwald decided to put a sizable portion of his wealth to good use.

As a member of an often-persecuted group, Rosenwald could relate to the trials and tribulations of his peers. To that end, he provided assistance to Jews fleeing the pogroms of early 20th Century Europe. But his efforts didn’t stop there. Inspired by the works of inventor and educator Booker T. Washington (1856-1915), J.R. took a strong interest in the plight of African-Americans, especially in the Southern U.S. Rosenwald saw them as another downtrodden segment of society, one in need of help – and one to which he provided significant aid.

Sears Roebuck president Julius (“J.R.”) Rosenwald (left) meets with one of the inspirations of his philanthropic efforts, educator and inventor Booker T. Washington (right), at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute in 1915, as depicted in director Aviva Kempner’s new documentary, “Rosenwald.” Photo courtesy of Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Rosenwald’s contributions to the African-American community were impressive, to say the least. Believing, as Booker T. Washington did, that education was crucial to the advancement of poor Blacks, J.R. provided significant funding for building schools in the South, mostly in rural areas. These “Rosenwald schools,” as they came to be known, offered a good education to those who otherwise might not have received one. In all, Rosenwald funded the construction of nearly 5,400 such schools, some of which had to be rebuilt when destroyed by segregationists seeking to keep Southern Blacks from getting an education, a prospect they deemed “dangerous” (and the biggest obstacle Rosenwald and like-minded followers had to overcome).

Rosenwald’s efforts did not stop there, however. He also helped fund the construction of YMCA and YWCA facilities in African-American neighborhoods in the North, providing a place to stay for those migrating from the South in search of jobs and better lives. Then, in 1917, he chartered the Rosenwald Fund, a philanthropic organization aimed at furthering “the well-being of mankind.” While the school building program was its largest undertaking, the Fund also provided grants to a number of African-American artists and activists, including James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Gordon Parks, Langston Hughes and W.E.B. DuBois. It also helped establish the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American air corps that fought during World War II.

Rosenwald’s efforts had quite an impact. In addition to turning around the fates of thousands who likely would not have benefitted otherwise, he helped lay the foundation for the American Civil Rights movement. As a charter member of the NAACP, he helped raise public awareness of the need for equal rights, an initiative that has carried forward to the present day, decades after his death.

Sears Roebuck president Julius (“J.R.”) Rosenwald (center) greets children at one of the many schools he built for poor African-Americans in the South, a story chronicled in the informative new documentary, “Rosenwald.” Photo courtesy of Fisk University, John Hope and Aurelia E. Franklin Library, Special Collections.

In contrast to Rosenwald’s experience, Steve Jobs (1955-2011), co-founder of Apple Computers, took a very different path, as seen in “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” Having developed an affinity for computers at an early age, he and friend Steve Wozniak built their first device in the Jobs family garage in Los Altos, California. It would help to launch a technological revolution that essentially gave birth to the personal computer industry.

Jobs was driven to see his dream realized, to see it “change the world,” as he often put it. In part, this pursuit was an outgrowth of his study of Zen Buddhism, through which he sought to discover the nature of his destiny. With his business goals set, he then sought to recruit a variety of like-minded computing wizards to assist him, becoming a sort of charismatic high-tech guru.

Jobs placed many demands on his team as they worked tirelessly in the pursuit of their objectives. But, as a consequence, he often found himself becoming disconnected from others. This led to strains in his working relationships and his personal involvements, including with his high school girlfriend, Chrisann Brennan, with whom he had a daughter, Lisa. Even though Jobs would become eminently successful in his professional life, he was often isolated. Though his co-workers admired his vision and ambitions, they frequently became burned out, leaving the company after their jobs took a toll on them personally. He also had virtually no relationship with Chrisann and Lisa, who ended up on welfare at a time when Jobs was worth a fortune.

Apple Computers co-founder Steve Jobs provides the focus for the insightful new documentary “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

An internal struggle at Apple led to Jobs’ departure from the company in 1985. But, with the organization in trouble, he returned in 1997 to help turn it around. His many innovations, especially the development of such mobile devices as the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad, helped Apple become a financial behemoth. Fans of the company’s products came to follow the organization with an almost-religious fervor. And, with Jobs’ passing in 2011, his death was treated with the sanctity accorded a saint.

However, the years before Jobs died were quietly troubled, despite the squeaky clean public image carefully crafted by Apple’s handlers. The hip, cool, countercultural persona that Jobs had fostered for himself and his company successfully concealed an organization rife with pettiness, threats of retribution, questionable compensation and tax practices, unsafe working conditions for manufacturing employees, and a host of other issues. But, thanks to the company’s undeniably phenomenal sales, its deft public relations efforts, and the zealous, protective defenses of its devoted followers, most of these issues were quietly buried or downplayed.

Still, despite the largely successful deflection of these potential public perception nightmares, one can’t help but ask, are these the values of a company truly intent on changing the world (and, if so, changing the world in what way?) Indeed, can Jobs’ efforts be realistically compared to someone civically minded like Rosenwald? How can two entrepreneurs with such grand visions attain such wildly divergent results? In the end, it all comes down to beliefs.

Apple Computers co-founder Steve Jobs poses with one of his many technological creations in director Alex Gibney’s engaging new documentary, “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

When we set out to create anything, be it a business, a relationship or a piece of art, everything begins with our beliefs, the cornerstone of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality. Based on the experiences of Rosenwald and Jobs, it’s obvious they were both masters at formulating intents aimed at concocting grand creations. But what, exactly, were the nature of those beliefs? In large part, they stemmed from the intents that each held on a core level, their fundamental foundational views of the world, perspectives that shaped not only what they did in business, but also what they did in their lives overall.

Rosenwald, for example, was a devotee of the aforementioned concepts of tzedakah and tikkun olam. They were reflected in the way he conducted his personal life, as well as in his business and philanthropic affairs. By building Sears into a retail powerhouse, he amassed the funds necessary to carry out his charitable work, and his beliefs ultimately made it all possible. When it came to changing the world, he truly lived his dream.

Jobs also wanted to change the world, and he said so repeatedly. And, in many ways, he did, with his technological innovations significantly reshaping the way we relate to our world. But were these changes necessarily for the better? While a good case can be made for the benefits of having access to the Internet in the palm of one’s hand, the obsessive ways in which many use these devices have had the opposite effect of what Jobs claimed he was intending to create. Instead of generating a greater sense of connection, his devices have led to a growing sense of isolation, with many people today feeling more tuned in to their smart phones than to one another. This truly changed the world, but is it an improvement over what preceded it?

This, of course, begs the question, can we hold Jobs responsible for this? Indeed, doesn’t this say something more about us than him? Perhaps. But, given Jobs’ personal disconnection from the world, is it any surprise that he created a technology reflecting those very circumstances? The beliefs he used to manifest his reality thus became directly imbued in the products he created.

The “unintended” side effects of Jobs’ devices illustrate the principle of un-conscious creation at work, the notion whereby we seek to manifest our objectives without due consideration of the consequences. This is in stark contrast to Rosenwald’s efforts, which obviously clearly addressed the intended goal and its attendant outcomes. The differences in their approaches thus provide would-be entrepreneurs with a clear choice of how they might want to conduct their affairs. The key question, of course, is, what should one choose?

The differences in the beliefs of Rosenwald and Jobs are apparent in other ways, too. For instance, J.R. believed that his wealth was supposed to be put to useful purposes, as his many philanthropic undertakings indicate. Jobs, however, maintained that he could do more for the world by creating useful products than by donating to charity. In fact, Apple’s philanthropic efforts did not receive much attention until Jobs’ successor, Tim Cook, took over after his death. This is odd, too, given that Jobs allegedly had little interest in amassing money for its own sake. So what was the motive behind this visionary hoarding such a fortune? Given Jobs’ lack of personal connection to others and his vast reserves of undistributed resources, his hesitancy to be more generous publicly could be seen as yet another permutation of his beliefs related to being out of touch with the world.

If it sounds like this is vilifying Jobs and anointing Rosenwald for sainthood, that’s not the intent. When it comes to conscious creation, all probabilities are viable options for exploration, and the central characters in these stories each undertook their own ventures in their own ways with their own sets of beliefs. However, as noted above, the examples set by these two businessmen illustrate the kinds of choices that other would-be entrepreneurs face in setting up their own operations. And, again, the question is, what should one choose?

It’s also interesting to consider the notoriety and affection afforded Jobs and the virtual obscurity associated with Rosenwald. It forces us to ask ourselves, who do we admire and why? Indeed, what does it say about the values that we as a society consider laudable? We should think about that when we look at whom we label as our role models. Is it proper to virtually ignore someone who assists a huge segment of society while canonizing somebody who makes phones? These films bring these questions into sharp focus, nudging us to take a hard look not only at their subjects, but also at ourselves.

“Rosenwald” provides an informative look at an unlikely (and largely unsung) American hero. Despite some pacing issues in the first 30 and the last 20 minutes, the film generally tells its story well and in tremendous depth. The picture includes a wealth of great archive footage and engaging recent interviews with artists, journalists and historians, including recently deceased author Maya Angelou and activist Julian Bond. Most of all, though, the picture shows what miraculous results are possible when we make the effort to become involved and make a difference.

As for “Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine,” the film presents a rather damning indictment of its protagonist, one that’s almost certain to draw the ire of his followers but that nevertheless sheds significant light on some largely unaddressed topics. Through interviews with former Apple employees, members of the press and people who knew Jobs personally, the picture paints a very different portrait from what most viewers probably know. The narrative admittedly meanders a bit in the first 45 minutes, but, once the film settles down, it presents an insightful look at the man, his products, what he did to create them and the fallout that has come in their wake. It makes us think about where we place our loyalties – and whether they rightfully belong there.

It’s been said that, with great power comes great responsibility, and those who wield it had better have a good handle on how they do so. Those who are successful in business would be wise to heed such advice, for they have the potential to impact the lives of others in myriad ways. The examples set by Julius Rosenwald and Steve Jobs provide some clear-cut insights into how to proceed – and what not to do. Let us hope that today’s budding entrepreneurs make the right choices.

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

Thursday, September 10, 2015

'Get the Picture?!' in Nexus

I'm pleased to announce that the recently re-released edition of "Get the Picture?!: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies" has been reviewed in the August-September issue of Nexus magazine! Check it out by clicking here.

Friday, September 4, 2015

‘Grandma’ provides an exercise in self-discovery

“Grandma” (2015). Cast: Lily Tomlin, Julia Garner, Marcia Gay Harden, Judy Greer, Sam Elliott, Elizabeth Peña, Laverne Cox, Nat Wolff, John Cho, Meg Crosbie, Frank Cullison, Colleen Camp. Director: Paul Weitz. Screenplay: Paul Weitz. Web site. Trailer.

How well do we know ourselves? As anyone who has ventured off on a spiritual quest or undergone therapy can attest, this can be a remarkable process, full of surprises, revelations, joys and heartache. It often emerges out of the unlikeliest of scenarios, too, as evidenced in the touching new comedy-drama, “Grandma.”

Writer-lecturer Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin) has experienced more than her share of upheavals of late. With the passing of her soul mate, Violet, 18 months ago, Elle found herself saddled with an inconsolable sense of loss ‒ and a mountain of medical bills. Needless to say, these circumstances weighed quite heavily on her. But, as difficult as these trials were, little does she know that there are even more to come.

Drawing upon her vast reserves of resilience and determination, Elle vowed not to let these setbacks keep her from living her life. She actively took steps to move on, such as marshalling all of her assets to pay off her debts and seeking companionship with a new (albeit significantly younger) partner, Olivia (Judy Greer). However, these measures ultimately proved only marginally successful. Eliminating the pile of outstanding medical bills left Elle debt-free but virtually penniless, and her four-month relationship with Olivia quickly collapsed under the weight of her unresolved grief. Sadly, despite these seemingly hopeful, well-intentioned efforts, Elle now finds herself broke and alone.

But, just when Elle thinks matters can’t get any worse, her 16-year-old granddaughter, Sage (Julia Garner), shows up on her doorstep in need of cash. When Elle asks her what the money is for, Sage confesses that she needs it for an abortion. Once the initial shock wears off, Elle agrees to help her as soon as she receives a check that’s due her. But Sage insists she can’t wait; she says she needs the funds in time for her medical appointment – later that same day. And so, with that setup, this unlikely duo takes off in search of $630 before sunset. They embark on an extraordinary journey filled with laughter, tears, quarreling, secrets and more swearing than one would hear in a bar full of sailors.

In the course of their fundraising odyssey, Elle and Sage cross paths with an array of characters from their respective pasts and presents, including the father of Sage’s child (Nat Wolff), a longtime friend and tattoo artist (Laverne Cox), a snarly café owner (Elizabeth Peña) and an old flame from Elle’s flirtation with heterosexuality (Sam Elliott). There’s also a contentious encounter with Elle’s daughter and Sage’s mother, Judy (Marcia Gay Harden), a high-powered, overcaffeinated corporate type with a knack for intimidating everyone she meets. It’s a day full of ups and downs. But Elle is determined to find a way to help her granddaughter, and anyone who gets in her way had better watch out, as an unsuspecting barista (John Cho) discovers for himself.

However, even though the focus of this outing is to get help for Sage, as the day’s events unfold, it gradually becomes apparent that this undertaking is as much about Elle as it is about her granddaughter. Specifically, circumstances nudge Elle into addressing the many unresolved issues in her life, both from her past and her present. And, to that end, Elle is forced into coming to terms with herself, getting in touch with who she really is and why she acts as she does. It turns out to quite an eventful day, one that has the potential to change lives for all concerned.

Through this exercise in self-confrontation, Elle comes face to face with her true nature, one based on the beliefs she holds about herself and her life, the very building blocks of her existence and the foundation of the conscious creation process that brings it into being. The elements of her surrounding reality reflect those beliefs, providing her with a mirror of her own intents. And, as a result, Elle gets to see her inner self projected outwardly into physical form through the people she meets and the events that transpire.

For example, on numerous occasions, viewers witness Elle’s self-acknowledged fiercely protective nature, a quality that readily springs forth when needed, such as in her dealings with Cam, the irresponsible father of Sage’s child. She’s also supremely generous, as becomes apparent in reminiscences with Deathy, her tattoo artist friend. Elle clearly takes pride in these traits, attributes that illuminate the strength of her character.

By the same token, audiences also get to see Elle’s self-absorbed side, another quality of which she’s keenly aware but that she frequently tries to deny or casually disregard. On the one hand, she unapologetically embraces this aspect of her nature, but, on the other, she attempts to bury it under layers of denial or flip dismissiveness. In both cases, however, this characteristic often carries heavy consequences and tends to rub people the wrong way, as Olivia and Karl can clearly attest. And, once Elle starts to become aware of this, she must ask herself whether she wants to continue such behavior. Indeed, does she really want to be known as a selfish, self-avowed, self-created pariah?

Then there’s Elle’s troubled relationship with Judy, an association almost exclusively based on conflict. They rarely see one another, and Elle even hesitates contacting her now. This separation has emerged mainly because she abhors her daughter’s overbearing personality. But, then, given Elle’s behavior, is it any wonder where Judy gets it from? It should come as no surprise that Judy’s demeanor is another reflection of Elle’s internal beliefs. Judy thus acts as a mirror, showing Elle an aspect of her true nature that she’d probably rather ignore but that she’ll have to address if she ever hopes for things to be different between them.

Taken collectively, these incidents provide Elle with a powerful exercise in self-discovery. It forces her to examine, address and understand why her life has unfolded – and continues to unfold – as it has. Does she want more of the same going forward? Or do these circumstances provide her with the catalytic spark she needs to turn her life in a new direction? Given that she’s intentionally drawn these conditions into her life, it would seem that she’s looking to make a change (or to at least probe its viability). What she does with this opportunity, however, depends on the beliefs she holds – and implements – as she moves into her own future. It’s quite a revelatory experience. (And here all this time she merely thought she was helping Sage.)

“Grandma” is easily one of the year’s best releases thus far, a flat-out winner that never fails to entertain in both its comedic and dramatic aspects. Tomlin gives a virtuoso performance that is already earning her much-deserved awards buzz. But Tomlin is not alone when it comes to fine acting; she’s supported by an excellent cast of cohorts, especially Harden, Elliott and Garner. None of this would happen, however, were it not for the film’s solid script, which, despite a few contrivances, is strong from start to finish.

It’s also refreshing to see a movie that depicts the lives of same-sex couples with the sort of easy, matter-of-fact attitude on display here. Elle’s relationships with Violet and Olivia are taken as readily accepted givens, with no particularly special attention paid to their existence, as evidenced in the breezy, no-nonsense comments Sage and Judy make about them. One can only hope this is the start of a trend that other film narratives won’t hesitate to adopt.

If nothing else, “Grandma” effectively illustrates how helping others ultimately enables us to help ourselves. What begins as the provision of assistance for a young woman in trouble gradually evolves into an aging spirit taking stock of her life and what she wants for the future. It’s an example we can all draw from, both in our dealings with others – and with ourselves.

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

Check out 'Paulo Coehlo's Best Story'

Brazilian-born author Paulo Coelho is one the most prolific and best-selling writers of all time, but who is he? The new feature film "Paulo Coelho's Best Story" attempts to address this. Read more in my latest post to the New Consciousness Review web site, available by clicking here.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Check out New Consciousness Review!

Check out the latest edition of New Consciousness Review magazine, including my latest article, "Celluloid Salutes to Faith and Beliefs" on pp. 48-51, available by clicking here. Enjoy!