Sunday, November 29, 2015

‘Suffragette’ celebrates the courage to effect change

“Suffragette” (2015) Cast: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson, Ben Whishaw, Natalie Press, Romola Garai, Grace Stottor, Finbar Lynch, Geoff Bell, Adam Michael Dodd, Adrian Schiller, Simon Gifford. Director: Sarah Gavron. Screenplay: Abi Morgan. Web site. Trailer.

Leading the charge for change – especially on a mass scale – requires tremendous courage and bold actions. However, mustering the nerve to live up to those requirements may be more than many of us can handle. But, for those who can see the intrinsic need to bring about reform, calling upon one’s inner strength and fortitude may prove to be an inevitable eventuality, as a group of resolute women find out for themselves in the new historical drama, “Suffragette.”

In 1912 London, a smoldering movement was about to catch fire. For more than a half-century, the women of England had been lobbying to secure the right to vote, all to no avail. Their growing frustration over this lack of results prompted groups of suffragettes to step up their efforts. Under the auspices of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), founder Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) fervently urged her followers to actively take up the cause, zealously encouraging them to embrace the concept of “deeds not words” to reach their goal.

One of the groups that heeded Pankhurst’s rallying cry emerged among the workers in a London industrial laundry. Through the covert recruitment efforts of laundress Violet Miller (Anne-Marie Duff) and her daughter, Maggie (Grace Stottor), a suffragette circle slowly formed. And, thanks to the support of a sympathetic pharmacist, Edith Ellyn (Helena Bonham Carter), the activists had access to a meeting place to discuss their plans in secret.

However, as quietly compelling as Mrs. Miller’s arguments were, not everyone willingly signed on. Such was the case with Maud Watts (Carey Mulligan), a longtime laundry employee who could readily see the injustices and inequalities inflicted upon women in the workplace and other aspects of English society but who was reluctant to do anything that might stir up trouble. As a wife and working mother, Maud was particularly concerned with keeping the peace with the men in her life, most notably her husband and co-worker, Sonny (Ben Whishaw), and her boss, Mr. Taylor (Geoff Bell). That all changed, though, when events transpired that prompted Maud to become involved – and to take action.

Before long, Maud, Edith and Violet found themselves in the midst of increasingly contentious circumstances. But their activism did not go unnoticed; English men – especially those in official capacities, such as the police and members of Parliament – took a rather dim view of the actions of these female upstarts. Even government sympathizers like David Lloyd George (Adrian Schiller) were unable to be of much help.

In the wake of these developments, the women became targets of heightened scrutiny. Their activities were closely monitored by authorities like Inspector Arthur Steed (Brendan Gleeson). And the more militant the suffragettes became, the greater the price they paid for their efforts, resulting in such consequences as jail time and loss of child custody. However, considering the stakes involved, the activists carried forth, with some of them paying the ultimate price. Their colleagues could only hope that their actions would not prove futile.

For the women in the suffrage movement, participation in the cause often served dual purposes. Not only were they helping to further an initiative of the masses, but they were also frequently fostering their own personal evolution. Many, like Maud, came to discover aspects of themselves that they never knew about. And the effects of this awakening took root in many ways.

All of these changes came about as a result of the suffragettes’ employment of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Some of these changes emerged from beliefs in such notions as living with integrity, facing down one’s fears and practicing value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept related to each of us being our best, truest selves for the benefit and betterment of ourselves and those around us. The emergence of these qualities empowered the women in the movement, further strengthening their resolve to succeed on both public and personal levels.

The impact of this was perhaps greatest for those – again, like Maud – who initially believed they were being “unwittingly” drawn into the fray. On some level, these women recognized the inherent unfairness and injustice involved and believed that it needed to be changed, even if they were initially reluctant to participate. Ultimately they followed their intuition and made use of its power to seek and implement reform.

With that said, however, some may question some of the tactics the suffragettes used in making their case, no matter how noble the cause. Indeed, by today’s standards, those actions could easily be construed as terrorism. But, as noted on several occasions in the film, 50 years of polite protest got the women nowhere. So, given that the suffragettes had to rely on changing the minds of the men to win the vote, they felt compelled to make their case using means and methods that they knew the men would understand. By engaging in acts of violence, the women began “speaking the language” their adversaries would understand. It ultimately got their attention – and helped secure the vote for women, a trend that would spread around the globe and give birth to the larger women’s rights movement.

“Suffragette” is a capably made period piece chronicling the themes of this historic fight, with excellent production values and fine performances, though it certainly would have been nice if Meryl Streep’s highly billed performance amounted to more than just a scant cameo appearance. The film’s intentionally grainy cinematography lends an air of gritty realism in its depiction of the conditions at the time (even if its jittery hand-held camera work sometimes gets a tad tiresome). The script and story tell the suffragettes’ story well, though the mix of real and fictitious characters tends to skew the picture’s authenticity somewhat. This certainly isn’t epic filmmaking, but it does make for an effective history lesson (especially for younger audiences) or a good viewing option for a rainy Saturday afternoon.

Taking up arms in the quest of a just cause is perhaps one of the most important ventures we can pursue as conscious creators. But, when we consider the rewards involved, whatever effort is required generally seems more than worth it. The suffragettes learned that, and their shining example inspired generations of women who followed. We could all learn a lot from their experience.

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

Thursday, November 26, 2015

‘Trumbo’ explores redemption, justice

“Trumbo” (2015). Cast: Bryan Cranston, Diane Lane, Helen Mirren, John Goodman, Louis C.K., Michael Stuhlbarg, Elle Fanning, David James Elliott, Dean O’Gorman, Christian Berkel, James DuMont, Alan Tudyk, Roger Bart, John Getz, Johnny Sneed, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Richard Portnow, Stephen Root, Madison Wolfe, Ronald Reagan (archive footage), Robert Taylor (archive footage), Humphrey Bogart (archive footage), Lauren Bacall (archive footage). Director: Jay Roach. Screenplay: John McNamara. Book: Bruce Cook, Dalton Trumbo. Web site. Trailer.

Life may not always be fair, but it usually seems to find a way to right itself. Enduring the trials and tribulations of such challenges might not be easy, but it often provides those who experience them with valuable insights, an education into how to turn around such situations. So it was for a troubled blacklisted screenwriter in the Hollywood of the 1950s as seen in the inspiring new biopic, “Trumbo.”

In 1947, screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston) was one of the most acclaimed and best paid scribes in Hollywood, having achieved success with the scripts for such films as “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” (1944) and the Oscar-nominated “Kitty Foyle” (1940). At the same time, he had also achieved a fair amount of notoriety for his radical politics as a member of the Communist Party USA, frequently participating in protests aimed at securing better pay for the movie industry’s unionized tradespeople. His support of these initiatives often earned him the ire of many Tinsel Town moguls, who sought to make films for as little money as possible.

There was nothing technically illegal about being a member of the Communist Party, though, with the rise of the Cold War and Red Menace paranoia, the organization’s constituents became targets of increased scrutiny. Spearheaded by the efforts of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) chaired by Congressman J. Parnell Thomas (R-NJ) (James DuMont), citizens from all walks of life were scrutinized in highly publicized hearings to assess their political views. This was particularly true for those in the movie industry. Fear that “Hollywood radicals” and their sympathizers would try to load films with subversive propagandist messages prompted HUAC to subpoena actors, directors, producers and screenwriters to testify about their views, their personal and professional associations, and what they knew about such alleged rampant, virulent conspiracies.

With the assistance of the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, headed by such staunchly conservative Hollywood icons as actor John Wayne (David James Elliott) and immensely popular (and eminently powerful) gossip columnist Hedda Hopper (Helen Mirren), Thomas and his cronies went after high-profile “militants” like Trumbo and nine of his colleagues (“the Hollywood Ten”) to appear before the Committee. When Trumbo testified, he insisted that he hadn’t done anything illegal and was merely exercising his constitutionally protected rights. For his part, though, Thomas found Trumbo’s responses evasive and cited the screenwriter for contempt of Congress, a charge for which he was eventually tried, convicted and sentenced to 11 months in a federal penitentiary.

After his release from prison, Trumbo immediately found himself blacklisted by the Hollywood community. No studio would hire him, and even long-standing supporters like actor Edward G. Robinson (Michael Stuhlbarg) and producers Louis B. Mayer (Richard Portnow) and Buddy Ross (Roger Bart) turned their back on him to save their own necks. Trumbo’s inability to work led to severe financial strain, which, in turn, caused considerable tension in his home life. His relationships with his wife, Cleo (Diane Lane), and his three children (most notably his eldest daughter, Niki (Elle Fanning)) were severely put to the test. If Trumbo were to survive, he would have to get creative in figuring out ways to get back to work.

For starters, Trumbo cut a deal with fellow screenwriter Ian McLellan Hunter (Alan Tudyk) in which he asked his colleague to “front” a new script for him, agreeing to pay him a percentage of the fee if the screenplay sold. Fortunately, the duo found a buyer, enabling them to split the funds from their sale. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of the accolades the script received when it won the Academy Award for best screenplay. Indeed, it would be many years before Trumbo could officially acknowledge his involvement in, and receive recognition for, his achievement in writing the script of “Roman Holiday” (1953).

But Trumbo’s deal with Hunter wasn’t enough to sustain him for the long term, especially once his collaborator came under increased scrutiny of his own. Trumbo needed another plan, but, with no one in mainstream Hollywood willing to hire him, he had to look to more unconventional sources of work. That led him to producer Frank King (John Goodman), a self-described creator of cinematic schlock who didn’t care about politics and was only interested in making as much money as he could from his mass-produced, low-budget “B” films. King thus agreed to hire Trumbo to write scripts anonymously, and, before long, he was so impressed with the quality, quantity and timeliness of Trumbo’s output that he allowed his newest scribe to recruit other blacklisted screenwriters, like Arlen Hird (Louis C.K.) (a fictitious character who was a composite of several of Trumbo’s real-life colleagues). Through his association with King, Trumbo would go on to anonymously win another Oscar for his script of “The Brave One” (1956).

Word of Trumbo’s clandestine tactics was difficult to contain, however, especially once the likes of Hedda Hopper got wind of his schemes. But, given Trumbo’s reputation for quality, his unofficial but rumored award accomplishments and his ability to fly below the radar, he was quietly sought after by desperate producers who needed faulty scripts fixed without attracting a lot of attention. And the more expertise he gained at this, the more he was in demand, eventually including those who were no longer afraid of making their associations with Trumbo publicly known. This led to collaborations with actor Kirk Douglas (Dean O’Gorman), who served as executive producer of the Stanley Kubrick blockbuster “Spartacus” (1960), and filmmaker Otto Preminger (Christian Berkel), director of the epic saga “Exodus” (1960). By coming aboveground with these projects, Trumbo managed to redeem himself and undermine the campaign of those who had unsuccessfully tried to discredit him and his colleagues, a wrong-headed initiative that, he wryly observed, ultimately netted no one guilty of the so-called un-American activities it was charged with investigating.

In hindsight, it’s almost inconceivable to imagine how the Red Scare got so out of control. The phenomenon essentially took on a life of its own, especially as its manifestation received more and more input from the masses who created and sustained it through the power of their beliefs, the basis of the conscious creation process. It was a potent and pervasive force, one that recruited legions of supporters and infiltrated virtually every aspect of American life. Unfortunately, it also ruined many lives and careers, especially in the entertainment industry, and all for naught.

For those who were victimized by this officially sanctioned witch hunt, the effects were devastating. This, of course, would legitimately prompt one to ask, why did they willingly participate in its creation? As this and many films like it demonstrate, perhaps it was to draw attention to the inherent injustice involved, to demonstrate the impact of unchecked power and to shine a spotlight on the efforts of those who would attempt to ride roughshod over our fundamental, constitutionally protected liberties. In the end, many of those who were unduly targeted – like Trumbo – were vindicated, ushering in a new era, one in which these atrocities were brought to a close and giving birth to a more tolerant, more inclusive society.

In Trumbo’s case in particular, one could argue from a conscious creation perspective that his blacklist experience was part of his education to the plight of the constituents he so fervently fought for. Early in the film, for example, one of Trumbo’s colleagues notes the irony of his involvement with the Communist Party in light of his own personal affluence. Indeed, was it truly possible for someone so materially comfortable to be able to fully appreciate the circumstances of those less financially fortunate? Perhaps his personal misfortunes gave him a new appreciation for the difficulties of the downtrodden, something he needed to experience firsthand to become a more effective advocate.

In turn, to extricate himself from these circumstances, Trumbo needed to create the means for counteracting the conditions that placed him in this personal dilemma. He did so by pushing the limits of his beliefs, manifesting inventive approaches for reversing his misfortunes, and he did so by drawing on what he did best – his writing. By facing his fears, acting with integrity and being willing to think outside the box – all key concepts in successful implementation of the conscious creation process – he managed to ply his craft, using innovative methods to bring it to fruition and ultimately making it possible to undermine the efforts of those who sought to silence him and squelch the principles he championed.

Through these efforts, Trumbo successfully reinvented himself. In a sense, he “redeemed” himself in the eyes of his peers and the public at large (even though he and his most ardent supporters probably would have asserted that he didn’t engage in anything in any way necessitating redemption). Trumbo likely would have said that he was merely fighting for a fundamental sense of fairness and the protection of our constitutionally guaranteed rights. He also probably would have claimed that he was seeking to inspire a new generation of advocates of these principles. This was most apparent with his daughter Niki, who, even as a child (Madison Wolfe), was drawn to the ideals promoted by her father. As a young adult, she would pick up on these notions and become active in the movement to secure voting rights for minorities.

Most importantly, though, Trumbo managed to work his way through all of his trials and tribulations by living his value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept related to each of us being our truest, best selves for the benefit and betterment of ourselves and those around us. Trumbo was a writer first and foremost, and he managed to find ways to continue as such despite the obstacles in his way. And, even though it took some time for the errors of the past to be rectified, he would eventually receive the award recognition he earned for his efforts. He was officially credited for his work on “The Brave One” in 1975, shortly before his death, and on “Roman Holiday” in 1992, a posthumous tribute accepted by his wife. Despite the many hardships he endured, one could readily contend that Trumbo indeed lived a life well led.

“Trumbo” is an entertaining, informative biopic about an amazing talent and a troubled era in Hollywood and American history. The picture successfully fuses archived newsreel footage with its central narrative, recalling such other similar titles as “The Front” (1976), “Guilty by Suspicion” (1991) and “The Way We Were” (1973) (to which Trumbo himself was an uncredited contributor). The film features a dynamite, award-worthy lead performance by Bryan Cranston, who has significantly upped his game here, as well as terrific supporting portrayals by Goodman, Mirren, Stuhlbarg and a host of other players, all of whom faithfully depict legendary Hollywood icons without ever looking foolish or cartoonish. The movie’s excellent production values beautifully capture the look and feel of the era, with a backing soundtrack that complements the mood of the story.

Ironically, though, the film’s script leaves something to be desired at times (especially in its sometimes-meandering first hour), but its many other fine attributes (particularly its performances) cover this shortcoming well. In all, this release serves up a sumptuous cinematic feast with an important reminder of how important it is to protect our fundamental civic rights and values, especially when intolerance attempts to aggressively intrude upon our cherished freedoms.

Seeking justice and redeeming oneself are valuable life lessons for all of us, particularly when we feel unduly put upon. But making the effort to pursue such lofty goals is crucial to preserve our rights and our integrity, if not our very sanity. Trumbo’s courage set an inspiring example for us all – but let’s hope his efforts have made it possible for us to never have to endure the ordeal that he did.

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

‘Truth’ puts its namesake on trial

“Truth” (2015). Cast: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss, Bruce Greenwood, Stacy Keach, John Benjamin Hickey, David Lyons, Dermot Mulroney, Rachael Blake, Andrew McFarlane, Noni Hazlehurst, Philip Quast, Nicholas Hope, Steve Bastoni, Helmut Bakaitis, Lewis Fitz-Gerald, Tom Brokaw (archive footage), George Stephanopoulos (archive footage). Director: James Vanderbilt. Screenplay: James Vanderbilt. Book: Mary Mapes, Truth and Duty: The Press, the President, and the Privilege of Power. Web site. Trailer.

Getting to the heart of a matter seems like it should be a fairly simple, straightforward process, correct? Not necessarily. As a leading news organization found out in a very high-profile (and subsequently embarrassing) investigation, definitive conclusions may be more elusive than one might think, a story reconstructed in the recently released docudrama, “Truth.”

On September 8, 2004, the CBS News magazine 60 Minutes II aired an investigative report that held the potential to be a real bombshell. The report, researched and written by longtime producer Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) and presented by veteran anchorman Dan Rather (Robert Redford), purported to reveal evidence proving that President George W. Bush had allegedly shirked his duty during his service as a Texas Air National Guard pilot from 1968 to 1974. The piece asserted that Bush had not only exploited family connections and political privilege to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War, but that he had also failed for many months to fulfill his most basic Guard obligation ‒ showing up on base.

Mapes and her team of researchers (Topher Grace, Dennis Quaid, Elisabeth Moss) had scrambled under a tight deadline to put the story together, combining on-air eyewitness testimony and information from newly disclosed documents to make their case. At the time of the broadcast, Mapes and company felt confident that the story was solid. And, in the run-up to the 2004 presidential election, the “Bush-Guard” story was seen to have potentially profound ramifications.

But, within days of when the story broke, Bush’s military service record was no longer the focus of media and public scrutiny. Instead, 60 Minutes, Mapes and Rather came under question. The documents supporting the investigation were denounced as forgeries, and the 60 Minutes staff was accused of shoddy journalism or, perhaps worse, of being duped.

The firestorm of controversy immediately placed CBS News under the microscope, causing a public relations nightmare for publicity chief Gil Schwartz (Steve Bastoni), senior vice president Betsy West (Rachael Blake) and news division president Andrew Heyward (Bruce Greenwood). An intensive independent investigation was subsequently launched co-chaired by Richard Thornburgh (Helmut Bakaitis), former US Attorney General under President George H.W. Bush, father of the then-sitting chief executive, and Louis Boccardi (Lewis Fitz-Gerald), former CEO of the Associated Press. The panel’s findings led to a sweeping housecleaning at CBS News, including Mapes’s firing and Rather’s premature retirement. This change effectively altered the landscape of American journalism, rearranging it in ways from which it has never fully recovered.

How did this happen? Essentially, the story that plays out in “Truth” hinges on what we believe, the basis of how our reality comes into being through the conscious creation process. Analyzing the situation involved posing some key questions: Was Mapes’s investigation an example of solid journalism, as she contended? Or was it a case of sloppy research without adequate confirmation or attribution?

Given Mapes’s track record, she was considered a stellar producer, having earned widespread acclaim for breaking such blockbuster stories as the infamous Abu Ghraib military prison abuse scandal involving US troops serving in Iraq. And Rather, the veteran anchor famous for his reporting of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal, was considered one of American journalism’s most respected icons. Their work typically went unquestioned, and, for the most part, such was the case with the “Bush-Guard” story as it was being put together.

But, as elements of the report came under scrutiny after its broadcast, so, too, did the research methods of the 60 Minutes team. The testimony of one of the report’s principal sources, Bill Burkett (Stacy Keach), a former Guard lieutenant colonel, came into question when it became apparent he told different stories to different CBS investigators. And, given that Burkett was also the source of the alleged damaging documents, their authenticity came into question, especially when it was revealed that they contained typographical elements not common at the time of their supposed creation and were more likely produced using contemporary word processing software. Burkett’s dislike of Bush didn’t help CBS’s case, either.

Suddenly, the story was not about Bush’s service record but about the legitimacy of the evidence condemning him. Public sentiment quickly shifted in support of the President and against CBS. The beliefs driving this change thus altered the overarching nature of the story as it unfolded. And this occurred in spite of the research team’s contentions that producing the supposed forgeries (as many critics now claimed the documents were) would have required Herculean efforts beyond all reasonable credibility, a central contention behind the investigators’ belief that their story was solid.

This is where the power of discernment comes into play where beliefs are concerned. In this case, the key belief question for the public was, which argument do you believe? Did the CBS team do its job and draw the correct conclusions? Or did some unseen supporter/protector of the President lay a trap for the news organization, concocting fraudulent evidence of a fabricated claim in an effort to discredit it and to squelch its dissemination of any information that might possibly harm Bush’s reelection bid? (This second scenario is not entirely implausible, especially if word of CBS’s efforts had somehow leaked to those backing the President. As Rather confides to one of his colleagues during the investigation, Mapes had actually been on the trail of this story as far back as 2000 ‒ before Bush was initially elected ‒ but was prevented from following through due to the death of her mother at the time. Had Mapes’s mother not become ill and died, Rather then adds, Al Gore might very well have been elected instead.)

Similarly, one might rightfully question the motivations of the organizations and individuals at work here. Was 60 Minutes’ story an attempt by the so-called “liberal media” to unfairly brand a conservative politician up for reelection with a stigma that would be difficult to counter? Also, given Mapes’s upbringing as the daughter of a father who allegedly abused her (and her self-acknowledged vocational penchant for taking on those who would willfully bully others, as many contended characterized the Bush presidency), isn’t it possible that her own experience may have turned the story into a de facto vendetta, one that she would want reported at all costs, even if the evidence didn’t necessarily bear it out, simply because of what she thought it symbolically represented to her personally?

Those who defended the President in the wake of this report – either in an official capacity or otherwise – naturally took a different tact. They believed (or at least convinced others to believe) that Bush was a victim of unfair and inaccurate reporting. In doing so, they also deflected attention away from the President’s supposed military record, focusing instead on the credibility of the minutiae of the investigation. Rather than promoting a dialogue about the truth or falsity of the report’s contentions, Bush’s supporters instead turned the story into a conversation about type fonts, letter spacing and Burkett’s reliability. The public was thus asked, are these seemingly incidental matters enough to undermine the larger claims put forth by 60 Minutes?

In all of the foregoing instances, the public’s beliefs ultimately determined the outcome, a classic example of a mass-created event. They were apparently convinced that doubt about the validity of the evidence was sufficient enough to call the CBS report into question, regardless of the strength of the research team’s overriding arguments. This, of course, raises the crucial question, why? Why was the general public so willing to dismiss the findings of a long-respected news organization over what some would say was a counterargument that was just as flimsy as the evidence that CBS’s detractors called into question? Indeed, how does one outlook prevail in the face of two equally potent, yet ultimately diametrically opposed viewpoints?

To answer this question, one must look at the predominant perspective of the masses at the time. In a country still railing from the anguish of the 9/11 attacks and relishing its “victory” in the Iraq War, many likely believed it would be difficult to withdraw their support for a leader who they contended got the US through those difficult times, especially when the evidence attempting to take him down could arguably be looked upon as specious at best. This is not to suggest that there weren’t those who disagreed with this outlook; however, the belief power of the masses supporting the dominant view was obviously strong enough to hold sway in the face of the opposition, even when such supposedly damning evidence was promulgated by a news organization as respected as CBS.

In light of that, then, one can’t help but ask why those who came out on the losing end of this controversy contributed to the scenario’s creation as they did. Perhaps it had something to do with helping to draw attention to the erosion of journalism as a profession. Given the decline in investigative reporting that had been escalating in the years leading up to this debate, one might contend that the manifestation of a high-profile controversy such as this was necessary to draw attention to (and hopefully to help curtail) this unfortunate trend. If a news organization as esteemed as 60 Minutes could fall prey to such an assault, then investigative journalism itself was being put on trial. And, if that could happen to such a valuable watchdog of truth, then maybe concerned citizens had better pay attention to what’s really going on with the flow of information coming out of mainstream media outlets, especially with regard to how effectively such organizations are able to do their jobs.

Based on the outcome of the foregoing, it would seem that the public was not ready to deal with this issue at that time, no matter how in your face it may have been. But, given the ongoing decline that has occurred in the profession since then, perhaps this is something we had better start paying attention to while we still have the time to address it. Maybe this film will help to generate renewed awareness of this question, even if the initial incident itself did not.

“Truth” is a generally engaging autopsy of one of the most controversial news stories of the 2004 presidential election campaign, with a narrative that fuses elements of such docudramas as “The Insider” (1999) and “Fair Game” (2010). The film is as much a eulogy for modern journalism overall as it is for the particular incident in question here, truly sad (but hopefully motivating) in many respects. Admittedly, the picture would have benefitted from a better script, one that was a little clearer in telling its story and that employed a less heavy-handed approach (despite its heart being in the right place). This shortcoming aside, though, the film features a fine ensemble cast, with a particularly noteworthy performance by Blanchett, who proves once again that she can do virtually whatever she wants on screen and succeed brilliantly.

Truth can be a tricky concept to get our hands around, mainly because it’s governed by our beliefs. Because of that, “truth” arguably could be said to be relative for each of us. Nevertheless, when we seek to determine the “real” character of what we consider to be the truth, we must earnestly employ our power of discernment to discover what really matters most, putting distractions, diversions and red herrings in their place (especially when they’re intentionally employed to promote beliefs that obfuscate key considerations). By engaging in this practice, we should be able to uncover what we’re meant to find in order to create a reality that ultimately benefits us all, one genuinely based on truth.

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

Sunday, November 8, 2015

‘Freeheld’ explores the power of change

“Freeheld” (2015). Cast: Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, Steve Carell, Michael Shannon, Josh Charles, Luke Grimes, Tom McGowan, Dennis Boutsikaris, Kevin O’Rourke, William Sadler, Mary Birdsong, Kelly Deadmon, Stink Fisher, Gabriel Luna, Skipp Sudduth, Anthony De Sando, Mina Sundwall. Director: Peter Sollett. Screenplay: Ron Nyswaner. Documentary Source Material: “Freeheld” (2007) (Cynthia Wade, director). Web site. Trailer.

When an obvious injustice become apparent, there’s a natural tendency to right such a wrong. But who will step up and take on the challenge? Sometimes the champion of the cause will be readily recognized. In other cases, however, the leader of the revolt may be the unlikeliest of candidates. In the end, it will all depend on the strength of the beliefs behind the force for change, a principle explored in the emotional new biopic, “Freeheld.”

In 2005, decorated New Jersey police detective Lt. Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore) was living the good life. Her career was going well, she had just moved into a beautiful new home and she was enjoying her relationship with the love of her life, Stacie (Ellen Page), with whom she had formally established a domestic partnership under the state’s recently enacted law governing such arrangements. There were some trade-offs, such as Laurel’s belief in the need to keep her lifestyle secret for career advancement purposes, but, on balance, everything seemed to be going well. That all changed one day, though, when a nagging pain thought to be a pulled muscle turned out to be something far more serious – Stage IV lung cancer.

Life partners Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore, left) and Stacie Andree (Ellen Page, right) face life-changing – and culture-changing – challenges in the heart-tugging new biopic, “Freeheld.” Photo by Phil Caruso, courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Despite her hopes for the best, Laurel knew her prognosis was not good. Given that, she began making preparations for the worst. Laurel’s biggest concern was providing for Stacie, who was many years her junior and lacked her earning power. She decided to take the bold step of coming out publicly and asking that her pension benefits be assigned to her partner upon her death, a provision allowed under the domestic partnership act. As an Ocean County municipal employee, she petitioned the local governing body – the board of freeholders – requesting the assignment, an appeal that was promptly rejected.

In rendering their decision, the freeholders noted that they were under no obligation to grant such a request to a same-sex couple, even though a comparable transfer involving a married couple would sail through automatically. The freeholders argued that the county could not afford such an assignment. They further justified their position by citing a provision in the domestic partnership law that maintained county governments were not obligated to grant such requests (even though they were given the option to do so if they so chose). From the freeholders’ standpoint, the matter was considered closed. But that was not the end of it.

Laurel and Stacie decided to appeal the decision. And, when word of the request’s rejection began to spread, the couple amassed legions of support. First in line was Laurel’s work partner, Detective Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), who actively sought to secure the backing of fellow officers. Then Laurel and Stacie received a huge boost from gay rights activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell), a flamboyant but effective advocate who publicized the case extensively, generating widespread public attention. Hordes of community and out-of-town supporters soon descended upon the Ocean County municipal building to get Laurel’s rejection overturned, with throngs of local, regional and national media in tow to cover the growing controversy.

Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), a hard-nosed police detective, reveals a strong, compassionate side in coming to the aid of his dying partner in director Peter Sollett’s “Freeheld.” Photo by Phil Caruso, courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

With the heat sufficiently turned up on the freeholders, the unanimous consensus that the lawmakers prided themselves on in rendering all of their voting decisions began to erode from within. Freeholder Bryan Kelder (Josh Charles) saw the inherent injustice in the board’s ruling and threatened to break ranks with his colleagues (Tom McGowan, Dennis Boutsikaris, Kevin O’Rourke, William Sadler). Afraid for their jobs, the majority members engaged in ample arm-twisting, punctuated by time-worn religious arguments, to try and sway their colleague, who, in turn, made his case by pointing to the board’s plummeting public approval ratings.

The die, it seems, was cast. In virtually no time, Laurel’s appeal was brought up for a new vote. The board’s decision would set a precedent and prove to have sweeping implications that extended far beyond Ocean County, New Jersey, a fitting legacy for a reluctant hero, one whose courage extended far beyond the limits of her badge.

Stepping to the fore to lead a cause – no matter how noble – requires a great deal of courage for just about anyone, even the most ardent of advocates. But, when circumstances call for a reluctant hero to herald the charge, it often takes a lot for a hesitant champion to work up the nerve and assume the responsibility. Such was the case for Laurel. But, then, given the personal stakes involved, she was the only one who could make the case, at least at the beginning. However, in mustering up the necessary bravery, she forged ahead to get her voice heard, a move that would aid not only Laurel and Stacie, but also a silent constituency of others similarly situated, beneficiaries whose needs would have gone unmet were it not for Laurel’s tremendous fortitude.

The ability to face one’s fears and live heroically in this way is a crucial element of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest our reality through our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Such behavior is often essential to seeing certain dreams realized, especially those that challenge convention and push the limits of possibility. This is one of conscious creation’s guiding principles, one that helps make it possible for us to experience our inherent nature, one characterized by our continuing evolution, our constant state of becoming.

Of course, Laurel wasn’t the only one who took the risk. Her work partner, Dane, faced much scrutiny from his peers, many of whom were initially unable or unwilling to see the validity of their colleague’s claim, simply because she was not married in the traditional sense. Dane argued that he could marry Laurel immediately and that there would be absolutely no issue about the disposition of her pension benefits upon her death, so why should the situation be any different simply because she was partnered to someone of the same gender? He also pointed out how difficult it was for a same-sex couple to legally establish a domestic partnership as Laurel and Stacie did (a process at the time far more complicated than that required for a man and a woman to get married). So, if two people of like gender were willing to go to all that trouble, he contended, that must say something about the strength of their relationship and their level of commitment to one another, proof that the parties to such arrangements were just as deserving of the same benefits automatically accorded their heterosexual counterparts. Dane’s arguments ultimately proved quite convincing, so much so that most of his colleagues broke through their once-prejudicial limitations, expanding their beliefs about what was innately just and fair.

Gay rights activist Steven Goldstein (Steve Carell) leads an enthusiastic campaign to secure equal benefits for same-sex couples in New Jersey in “Freeheld.” Photo by courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Once word of Laurel’s plight became known, support rushed in from many quarters, thanks in large part to Goldstein’s unbridled enthusiasm. The diverse coalition of backers he helped forge labored tirelessly to bring about reform. They unquestioningly placed faith in their beliefs, and the power of the collective worked wonders in bringing about this mass-created result. Even in a community as conservative as Ocean County, change proved possible when fueled by the power imbued in joint efforts.

Given her background, at one time, Laurel probably never would have thought that she would become a poster child for one of the key battles in the gay rights movement. Yet, as events played out, circumstances materialized that enabled her to live out her unlikely destiny, to practice what conscious creators refer to as their value fulfillment. Laurel was not coerced into making this choice, but, given her belief in such qualities as integrity and fairness, there was no way she could back down from the fight in good conscience. It’s a good thing that she didn’t, either, for her victory led to an amendment in the provisions of New Jersey’s domestic partnership law. That amendment, in turn, led to the passage of the state’s same-sex marriage law, which, in turn, helped bolster the argument that led to the landmark Supreme Court ruling allowing same-sex marriage across the US. Not bad for a reluctant hero who just wanted to see things made right.

Ocean County freeholder Bryan Kelder (Josh Charles) seeks to take the unprecedented step of breaking ranks with his fellow lawmakers when voting on a controversial issue involving pension benefit rights for same-sex couples in “Freeheld.” Photo courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

“Freeheld” is a somewhat formulaic, occasionally preachy but nevertheless heart-tugging story about righting an inherent wrong, with fine acting across the board. It capably chronicles an event that helped bring about a sea change in American society and does so with powerful emotion, especially in the film’s second half. The picture is admittedly a bit unevenly paced at the outset, but, as the story settles down and becomes more focused, its true power comes shining through. For those who care about witnessing justice and fairness triumph, this is a must-see.

The hero’s journey is said to be a lonely one, but that need not be the case, especially once the hero stakes a claim to his or her cause and rallies the support of followers willing to back the undertaking, no matter how arduous or insurmountable the task may seem. As “Freeheld” reveals, the power of change is virtually impossible to restrain once the core issue is made clear for all to see. With all of the obfuscation removed and the truth made plainly apparent, justice has an open road available to it, clearing the way for genuine righteousness to become rooted where it had previously been lacking.

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

Faced with the impending death of her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page) makes an impassioned plea before county lawmakers for fulfillment of a request made by her dying spouse in the emotional new release, “Freeheld.” Photo by Phil Caruso, courtesy of Summit Entertainment.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Check out 'The Physics of the Soul'

The traditional materialistic view that science has relied on implicitly for ages has begun to be challenged by new thinking involving the role of consciousness in a wide variety of areas, most notably healing. To find out more about this paradigm shift, check out my review of the new documentary, "The Physics of the Soul," available by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

‘Experimenter’ probes the nature of our behavior

“Experimenter” (2015). Cast: Peter Sarsgaard, Winona Ryder, Jim Gaffigan, Anton Yelchin, John Leguizamo, Anthony Edwards, Dennis Haysbert, John Palladino, Edoardo Ballerini, Ned Eisenberg, Lori Singer, Emily Tremaine, Kellan Lutz, Michael Sibony, Tom Bateman, Lucy Fava, Jude Patrick White. Director: Michael Almereyda. Screenplay: Michael Almereyda. Web site. Trailer.

Have you ever wondered why some people do certain things? Better yet, have you ever asked yourself the same question, particularly when engaging in what you thought of as out-of-character behavior? Astonishingly, maybe those acts aren’t as anomalous as you might think, a poignant issue raised in the funny and intriguing new biopic, “Experimenter.”

Consider the following scenario: If you were ordered to do something you fundamentally disagreed with, would you comply? Most of us would probably say “No” without hesitation. But does that reaction truly hold water? That’s a theory psychology professor Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) put to the test in an experiment he conducted at Yale University in 1961.

In Milgram’s study, test subjects were evaluated for their responses to an order to deliver painful electric shocks to an unseen stranger (Jim Gaffigan) strapped to a chair in an adjacent room. The shocks were to be given whenever the stranger gave incorrect answers to a series of questions, with the voltage intensity steadily increasing with each wrong response. To ensure compliance with the design of the experiment, a supervising technician in a lab coat (John Palladino) insisted that test subjects continue administering the shocks in complete disregard of the stranger’s increasingly vociferous cries for mercy and their awareness of his self-proclaimed heart condition. And, despite any objections or reluctance to continue, much to Milgram’s surprise, the majority of test subjects capitulated to the technician’s orders, delivering what they believed to be near-fatal electric shocks simply because they were told to do so.

In reality, the electric shocks were simulated, and the stranger’s impassioned pleas were pure theatrics. But, since the test subjects could not see their victim nor experience the actual intensity of the alleged shocks, they genuinely believed they were causing harm – and continued to do it anyway.

Yale University researcher Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard) poses with the equipment from his famous obedience experiment conducted in 1961 as re-created in the engaging new biopic, “Experimenter.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

This conclusion prompted Milgram to ask, given what the test subjects believed was actually happening, why did they persist? Was it to appease a supposed authority figure (in this case, the lab tech)? Indeed, was this an example of “I was simply following orders”? There was quite an irony in this, too, since Milgram conducted his experiment at the time of the highly publicized trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, who asserted that very claim as the basis of his defense.

Milgram, the son of Jewish immigrants who fled Europe in the days before the rise of the Third Reich, was fascinated by this phenomenon. He truly wanted to understand why people would willingly behave in such a seemingly antisocial way, and he was undeterred in making his findings known, no matter how unpopular they might be and regardless of how much they might make people (including his professional peers) feel uncomfortable.

But Milgram’s so-called “obedience” tests came under attack, with claims that he was intentionally deceiving his test subjects through his experimental design. He contended such measures were necessary to evoke authentic responses, but critics balked, alleging that he was manipulating and coercing his subjects into submission. These charges tarnished Stanley’s credibility, making him out to be a grand deceiver. In fact, that label stuck so securely that, when he barged into a classroom to announce that President Kennedy had been shot, students didn’t believe him, his reputation for deception having eclipsed his credibility.

In an attempt to rebuild his reputation, Milgram went on to conduct other types of studies in new positions at Harvard and at the City University of New York. He performed investigations involving the “lost letter” technique for assessing public opinion, the “small world” social networking experiment (the basis for the “six degrees of separation” concept) and crowd behavior conformity tests on the streets of New York. These new studies, coupled with the devoted moral support of his loving wife, Sasha (Winona Ryder), and his trusted professional colleague, Paul Hollander (Edoardo Ballerini), helped bolster Stanley’s spirits and renovate his credibility to a certain degree. But a return to his obedience work with the 1974 publication of his book Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View reignited debates about his findings and reputation. These matters were exacerbated with the broadcast of “The Tenth Level,” a made-for-TV movie about his work starring William Shatner (Kellan Lutz) and Ossie Davis (Dennis Haysbert) that further distorted the findings of his Yale experiment.

Psychology professor Stanley Milgram (Peter Sarsgaard, right) meets his future wife, Sasha (Winona Ryder, left), for the first time in director Michael Almereyda’s “Experimenter.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

The stress placed on Milgram eventually took its toll. He succumbed to a heart attack in 1984 at the age of 51. But the impact of his work lives on, continuing to prompt questions among contemporary researchers about what we do and why.

The seminal question Milgram raised through his research – why do we do what we do – has implications that go beyond the obedience issue addressed in his Yale experiment. While behavioral compliance may be one of the most important areas of investigation involving this question, it can be asked in connection with virtually anything we do. This is not unlike what happens when we engage in conscious creation practice, the philosophy that ultimately aims to seek answers to very same query Milgram posed.

Conscious creation, which maintains we manifest the reality we experience through our thoughts, beliefs and intents, is responsible for the materialization of everything that appears in our existence. The key in this is identifying the specific beliefs we put to use in realizing what’s before us. So, asking why we do what we do is crucially pertinent in this context.

In essence, the purpose of Milgram’s experiment was to discover the nature of the beliefs underlying the largely unquestioned obedience exhibited by his test subjects. As Milgram observes in the film, if people find certain forms of behavior abhorrent, then why isn’t rebellion against it more common? That’s a legitimate question, given that roughly 65% of the experiment’s participants went along with what they were ordered to do, despite whatever objections they may have had.

This is where the power of beliefs comes into play, for they ultimately determine the outcome. For those who freely complied, beliefs in such notions as the need to respect authority, the desire to conform and fear of the ramifications of asserting one’s independence apparently trumped any thoughts they may have had questioning the necessity, legitimacy or propriety of their actions.

None of this is intended to pass judgment on those individuals who went along with the program. Beliefs are beliefs, and they hold sway until they’re overtaken by more powerful thoughts (including those that one might deem more “enlightened”). If the test subjects willingly embraced the aforementioned compliance notions, then those beliefs would dictate their behavior and the experiment results, even if other ideas tried to make inroads into their thinking. For his part, Milgram wasn’t out to criticize what they did; he just wanted to understand it.

Milgram’s own beliefs, of course, ultimately determined what he experienced, too. For example, through his experiment, he sought to discover the motivations that drive human behavior, no matter what they were. As a scientist, he freely embraced such an “objective” view of his research, and he likely assumed his peers did the same. Given the criticisms leveled against him, however, it would seem that he never thought his professional colleagues might have such “subjective” or emotional reactions to his results, data that he believed should be considered purely empirically.

From a devil’s advocate standpoint, one could also argue that the findings of Milgram’s experiment played out in line with his personal beliefs, all in true conscious creation fashion. Considering his fascination with how the Holocaust could have happened, and given that the timing of his experiment coincided with the Eichmann trial, one might contend that it’s no surprise that his research turned out as it did. His interest in these other issues might very well have colored his beliefs, with impact that bled through into the nature of his experimental design and study results.

In a controversial obedience experiment, “victim” James McDonough (Jim Gaffigan) pretends to receive painful electric shocks in a room separated from the one allegedly issuing them in order to gauge the reaction of the test subject supposedly inflicting them, as depicted in the refreshingly witty new biopic, “Experimenter.” Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Regardless of how such peer reactions arose, the result for Milgram at the time was disappointment and disillusionment. He had a hard time understanding his colleagues’ objections, unable to fathom how they, as scientists, could possibly have reacted as they did. But, as time passed and the appalled reactions to his work subsided, Milgram’s research came to be looked on in a new light. His findings have provided the basis of additional research, with his work cited frequently in psychological journals and texts.

This new appreciation for Milgram’s work has helped vindicate him and his findings. It took real courage for Stanley to step forward and remain steadfast about legitimate research results that were unpopular at the time just because they revealed something about human nature (and the manifesting beliefs behind it) that most people were afraid to acknowledge. Facing fears in this way is one of the hallmark principles of conscious creation, for it enables us to overcome limitations that can keep us from understanding ourselves and the character of our existence. If we ever hope to create a better world for ourselves, we must know where we need to make changes, and that process nearly always begins with an honest assessment of who we are and what we really want to manifest.

“Experimenter” is a little-known but delightful release that mesmerizes throughout. Its subject matter, which some might superficially see as dry and boring, comes to life with playful, sparkling wit and the inventive use of rear-screen projections that mirror Milgram’s inner life and reflect his insights into human behavior, social structures, and the interplay of reality and illusion. The film’s use of monologues to move the narrative forward – a script device I usually detest – is employed skillfully here, thanks to the screenplay’s crisp writing and the protagonist’s perfectly droll delivery. The ensemble cast is first-rate, with Sarsgaard giving an award-worthy performance in what is arguably his best on-screen portrayal to date, a role that was truly made for him.

If ever we question our actions, we need to stop and think about our beliefs, for they’re the driving forces behind them. And, if we want genuinely meaningful answers about said deeds, we must examine their underlying intents as honestly as possible, no matter how much we do or don’t like what we discover. Having the courage of someone like Stanley Milgram to get to the bottom of those exploits is critical if we ever hope to really know ourselves. Such realizations may be just what it takes to create a better world for us – and everyone else.

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

Monday, November 2, 2015

‘He Named Me Malala’ inspires the cause of education

“He Named Me Malala” (2015). Cast: Malala Yousefzai, Ziauddin Yousefzai, Toor Pekai Yousefzai, Khushal Khan Yousefzai, Atal Khan Yousefzai, Shazia Ramzan, Kainat Riaz. Director: Davis Guggenheim. Book: Malala Yousefzai and Christina Lamb, I Am Malala. Web site. Trailer.

Maintaining grace under pressure is difficult when we’re faced with trying circumstances. But imagine the pressure put upon a teenager attempting to carry on under the thumb of oppression and fighting for her life. Such are the conditions faced by an incredibly brave young woman in documentary filmmaker Davis Guggenheim’s latest release, “He Named Me Malala.”

In October 2012, 15-year-old Pakistani schoolgirl Malala Yousefzai was unexpectedly – and tragically – thrust onto the world stage. While traveling home from school, Malala and two of her friends, Shazia Ramzan and Kainat Riaz, were shot by an armed brigade of the Taliban, the militant fundamentalist group that took control of Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where Malala and her friends were born and raised. Malala was targeted for assassination because of her outspoken advocacy of girls’ education, a right that was being systematically eliminated by the Taliban in its implementation of strict Sharia law.

Outrage at the incident reverberated around the world. With a bullet lodged in her head, Malala survived the shooting but was gravely injured. It was unclear whether she would recover and, if so, what quality of life she would have. She and her family (father Ziauddin, mother Toor, and brothers Khushal and Atal) were hastily airlifted to England, where Malala underwent intensive medical care. Remarkably, Malala made a miraculous recovery. She still bears the scars of her injuries, including some permanent facial nerve and hearing damage, but her will was left intact. In fact, some would say she grew even stronger as a result of this incident.

After surviving a Taliban-sanctioned assassination attempt, girls’ education advocate Malala Yousefzai made a remarkable recovery to continue her work and inspire countless others worldwide, as depicted in the uplifting new documentary, “He Named Me Malala.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

So why was Malala targeted for assassination? In 1992, five years before Malala was born, the Taliban-linked organization known as TNSM (Tehreek-e-Nafaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi) infiltrated the Swat Valley under the leadership of Sufi Muhammad. A decade later, Muhammad’s son-in-law, Maulana Fazlullah, took over leadership of the TNSM, promoting a hardline fundamentalist agenda. Dubbed “the Radio Mullah” for his fervent inflammatory broadcasts, Fazlullah and the TNSM effectively took control of the region from the Pakistani government in 2007 after a series of deadly military skirmishes. The rights of women were systematically eliminated, culminating in a complete ban on female education in 2009, cutting off 40,000 girls from being able to attend school. And, to enforce the ban, an ongoing campaign of destruction began, resulting in the bombing, torching and dismantlement of up to 400 schools.

The Taliban’s tactics prompted Malala to take a stand. Beginning at the tender young age of 10, she began campaigning for the rights of girls to receive an education. Having grown up the daughter of a mother who was unable to access quality education and a father who founded a school aimed at training a new generation of women leaders, Malala took the cause seriously. She even wrote a blog for the BBC detailing her life under Taliban rule and her views on promoting education for girls. But, once Malala’s identity became known, she was immediately placed on the Taliban’s hit list.

Despite their horrific acts, the assassins failed in their task. Thanks to a long but effective period of treatment, Malala came back more determined than ever. Even though she’s unable to return to her homeland for fear of further reprisals, she is now in the public eye more than ever. As the co-founder of The Malala Fund, a non-profit organization focused on the rights of girls to quality education, she has expanded the scope of her cause beyond her native Pakistan. She now champions education for girls worldwide, visiting such locales as Nigeria, where schoolgirls have been kidnapped by the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram, and Jordan, to which refugees from neighboring Syria have been fleeing to escape the ongoing carnage in their homeland. She has received widespread recognition for her work, including being named the winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, the youngest-ever recipient of this esteemed honor.

Girls’ education advocate Malala Yousefzai (left), with the encouragement of her father, Ziauddin (right), leads the way in promoting her cause around the globe, as chronicled in director Davis Guggenheim’s new documentary, “He Named Me Malala.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Malala’s extraordinary story is truly stirring, to say the least. But it’s also a shining example of conscious creation at work, the means by which we manifest our reality through our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

Given how Malala’s existence has unfolded, one might wonder why anybody would want to create circumstances as horrendous as these. But, as tragic as they were, one need only look at the many blessings that have come from this situation. For example, in addition to the courage, determination and strength of will she inspires, Malala has been able to draw global attention to her cause, a development that may not have come about were it not for this series of events.

Similarly, consider the outpouring of heartfelt support for Malala in the wake of the shooting. Not only did this incident expand our global capacity for compassion, but it also undoubtedly played a role in the degree and speed of her healing. The collectively creative act of making her whole once again thus benefitted her personal well-being while enabling her to continue her work, an effort whose impact is being felt exponentially by many others far removed from her and her homeland.

Having lived through an unspeakable experience such as this, one might think there would be a natural tendency to crawl back into one’s shell and stay there. However, Malala would have none of this. She faced her fears and carried on, living courageously and committed to her convictions. These are some powerful beliefs at work, and they have emboldened her to continue her campaign, no matter the risks.

Even more remarkably, Malala admits in all sincerity that she harbors no ill will toward her attackers. This admission thus reveals a profound belief in the power of forgiveness. It’s something that many of us may not have the capacity to recognize, acknowledge or embrace, but Malala’s experience provides us with an incredible example to emulate. Indeed, if more of us were to buy into a belief in forgiveness than to a belief in retribution, we might be able to create a much better world. Perhaps her ordeal – and her reaction to it – were meant to inspire the rest of us. What a gift to humanity that is.

At home with her mother Toor (left) and younger brother Atal (center), Malala Yousefzai (right) lives a life as an ordinary teenager, in stark contrast to her extraordinary life as a global girls’ education advocate, as seen in the inspiring new release, “He Named Me Malala.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

All of this has been made possible because of Malala’s tremendous sense of personal integrity. Anyone who creates their reality in line with his or her truest self will see results commensurate with that intent. This is apparent in the strength, veracity and magnitude of what she has wrought through her conscious creation efforts. Again, we would be wise to follow her lead in what we manifest for ourselves. The intensity of her conviction is apparent on a number of occasions in the film but perhaps no more so than in a speech she gives about her cause in which she boldly proclaims “One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world,” a statement greeted with thunderous applause.

From the foregoing, one could easily argue that, despite her many hardships, Malala truly is living her destiny for the highest degree of benefit for both herself and the world at large, a principle conscious creators refer to as value fulfillment. This is so pervasive in her being that it’s even reflected in her name. As Malala’s father notes in the film, he named his daughter after Malalai of Miwand, a legendary Afghan folk heroine who engaged in selfless acts of inspiration while doing battle with British colonists in the 1880s. Thanks to Malalai’s heroic efforts, her people prevailed, despite her death at the hands of her enemies. In many ways, Malala’s experience mirrors that of her namesake but with a different outcome. The parallels in this are not lost on Malala, either, but she clearly has the wisdom to recognize the distinction between her experience and that of her forerunner. As she observes about her father’s naming decision, “When I was little, many people would say, ‘Change Malala’s name. It’s a bad name, it means sad.’ But my father would always say, ‘No, it has another meaning. Bravery,’” to which she goes on to add, “My father only gave me the name Malalai. He didn’t make me Malalai. I chose this life.”

Furthering the cause of girls’ education takes activist Malala Yousefzai (center) far from her adopted home in England, such as to a remote school in Kenya, as seen in “He Named Me Malala.” Photo courtesy of Fox Searchlight Pictures.

“He Named Me Malala” provides viewers with an intimate portrait of a transformative figure, both on a public and private level. It’s truly uplifting to watch Malala when she’s on the world stage (a venue in which she obviously feels quite comfortable), but it’s also touching to see her living the life of an everyday teenager who wrestles with all of the ordinary challenges most of us face when growing up. The film also does an effective job in documenting her ongoing work and in chronicling the events that led to the attempt on her life. The picture’s main problem, though, is one of organization of its material. Its individual segments tend to jump around a lot, which sometimes unnecessarily muddles the narrative. Nevertheless, the film is an excellent viewing option for schoolchildren, who could benefit tremendously from the inspiration of one of their own.

One of the elements that sets this film apart from other more conventional documentaries is its incorporation of stunningly beautiful animation, designed by Jason Carpenter. A number of sequences, such as those recounting the legend of Malalai and the experiences of Malala’s parents, are presented using this approach, providing elegant contrast to the film’s other material, particularly the harder-edged footage of the fallout from the TNSM’s atrocities, both to Malala personally and to the Swat Valley in general. This inventive cinematic device works well, and the filmmakers made a wise choice in including it.

When the stakes are stacked against us, we have two basic choices – turn tails and run or face the opposition placed before us and soldier on. Making the decision can be difficult. But, if we’re armed with the power of belief in ourselves and our convictions, there’s no telling what we might accomplish, even in the face of the staunchest foes. Malala Yousefzai shows us what’s possible and does so with her own brand of courage, confidence and grace. May we all have the fortitude to follow her example when we’re confronted with our own challenges – and the opportunities they present.

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