Wednesday, November 30, 2016

‘The Innocents’ contemplates faith and the mystery of creation

“The Innocents” (2016). Cast: Lou de Laâge, Agata Buzek, Agata Kulesza, Vincent Macaigne, Joanna Kulig, Eliza Rycembel, Katarzyna Dabrowska, Anna Próchniak, Klara Bielawka, Pascal Elso. Director: Anne Fontaine. Screenplay: Sabrina B. Karine and Alice Vial. Story: Philippe Maynial. Dialogue and Adaptation: Pascal Bonitzer and Anne Fontaine. Web site. Trailer.

It’s been said the Lord works in mysterious ways. In fact, in some cases, those mysteries are so cryptic that it’s difficult to fathom what could possibly be behind them. That’s where one’s faith can be seriously tested, as a group of Polish nuns discover for themselves in the days shortly after World War II in the gripping historical drama, “The Innocents,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

In December 1945, the sisters of a Benedictine convent near Warsaw are perplexed when they begin falling ill in severe pain. However, true to form, the strict Rev. Mother (Agata Kulesza) wants to address the matter internally, keeping outsiders at bay. But, recognizing that the sisters are ill-equipped to handle the situation, Sister Maria (Agata Buzek), a member of the order who frequently gets into trouble for taking matters into her own hands, seeks medical help. She sneaks out of the convent and asks some of the local street kids to help her find a doctor. They lead her to a field hospital run by the French Red Cross, which is on a mission to treat the last of its country’s survivors from the German concentration camps in Poland. Though initially told to seek help from local medical practitioners, Maria pleads her case to Dr. Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge), who reluctantly agrees to pay a visit to the convent.

Upon examining the sisters, Mathilde makes a shocking discovery – the “ill” nuns are actually pregnant and about to give birth. During the Soviet liberation of Poland months earlier, the convent was apparently overrun by Russian troops who raped the inhabitants. The sisters tried to disavow what happened, hoping to put it out of their memories, especially since many believed they were being unfaithful to their vows. But, try as they might to ignore what happened, those acts of savagery are about to come to fruition.

Needless to say, Mathilde is shocked at her discovery, but, as a medical professional (and a religious non-believer), she keeps a level head, treating the sisters as she would any other patient. She does her best to deal with the situation in practical terms, which isn’t always easy, given that it violates her obligations to the French Red Cross. At the same time, the sisters don’t see things quite so pragmatically, making Mathilde’s efforts even more difficult. Many view their circumstances with shame and are reluctant to be examined, despite their physical agony and even though what happened to them was not their fault. The Rev. Mother is particularly anxious to keep matters hushed up, fearing what others might think and concerned that she and her flock have irretrievably violated the sanctity of their commitment. It’s a difficult scenario for all concerned.

French Red Cross doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge, left) and Polish Benedictine nun Sister Maria (Agata Buzek, right) make an unlikely duo in trying to unravel a medical mystery at a convent near Warsaw in the days immediately after World War II in the thoughtful historical drama, “The Innocents,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand. Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

As the story unfolds, the sisters wonder how their God could have allowed such an atrocity to happen. Meanwhile, Mathilde questions her professional obligations, too, especially given the flak she draws from her unit’s commanding officer (Pascal Elso) and one of her trusted colleagues (Vincent Macaigne) when it becomes apparent what she’s doing. Mathilde also must ask herself if she wants to continue with this mission of mercy when she has her own troubling encounter with Russian troops at a checkpoint located between the convent and the field hospital. But, as events play out, a purpose for it all is eventually revealed – and a miraculous one at that. It’s circumstances like this that truly test one’s faith – and show what it means to have it in the first place.

In light of the foregoing, it’s not out of bounds for even the reasonable-minded among us to question how such events can transpire. But, for those who understand the mechanics of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents, such incidents are within the realm of possibility. The trick is grasping why.

In the materialization of some manifestations, the path to an outcome may take some very strange and unexpected twists and turns, many of which may defy logic. But, given that our beliefs are governed by more than just intellect and reason, including less “rational” qualities like faith and intuition, the route they take us in reaching the ultimate destination may be full of detours and apparent left turns, even though they prove indispensible in getting us to where we’re meant to be. In fact, it’s under circumstances like this when the faith component is particularly crucial, even if we don’t understand the meaning or purpose of the specific elements that determine our course.

For those who are committed to a life of contemplation and introspection, such as the sisters of this convent, it might be easy to tune out, or even become detached from, the conditions of the real world. When we allow our thoughts and beliefs to become preoccupied with the loftier issues of life, we might become unconcerned with, perhaps even unaware of, the everyday considerations that the majority of us deal with. For some of us, spending our days musing about life’s noble issues might be enough. But, as individuals who have chosen to experience life in physical reality with everything that entails, the unfettered pursuit of such a purely reflective existence may not be enough. Some of us might need a more tangible connection to our chosen physical existence.

Grateful members of a Benedictine convent thank a French Red Cross doctor, Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge, center), after helping them with their mysterious illness in director Anne Fontaine’s moving historical drama, “The Innocents,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand. Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

Determining the nature of that connection could be rather obvious to some of us. But, in other cases, we may lack the direction necessary to find a purpose. We might have a vague sense of a need to fulfill some kind of tangible calling even though its particulars are undefined. If we put forth an intent to help us achieve such a goal, even if we don’t fully understand it or what it involves, we may well see results commensurate with that idea come flooding back to us, especially if we have faith that the outcome will be realized.

Of course, in scenarios like this, when we put forth such altruistic but nebulous intents, the events that emerge from them may take puzzling forms that leave us perplexed, perhaps even appalled. This can cause us to question our beliefs, as well as our faith, maybe even prompting us to go back on our originally stated intents. However, if we understand that such materializations are all part of the plan, that they’re integral to helping us reach our goal, no matter how incongruent or bizarre they may seem, we’ll realize later how such seeming anomalies led to the fulfillment of our objective.

So why does our divine collaborator take us down such unexpected paths? As our partner in this process, God (or the Universe or whatever other word best suits you) knows the best way to fulfill our stated intent, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. However, when we reach our goal, we often look back with an entirely different perspective; the so-called “silver lining” and “blessing on disguise” metaphors are highly apropos in such circumstances. These kinds of outcomes, in turn, often serve to reinforce the depth of our faith in the process and in our divine collaborator.

Knowing that, then, it would probably be in our best interests to abide by such thinking up front. By doing so, we might be able to avoid much of the anguish that arises when seemingly unexpected manifestations appear along the path to reaching our ultimate goal. Admittedly, this may not be easy, but, if we adjust our mindset accordingly, we might be surprised at how much more easily matters seem to progress. The result would be less stress, more trust in the process and greater fulfillment in the outcome. We would come to appreciate the wisdom of the notion that the Lord works in mysterious ways – and we’d be okay with it, too, just as the sisters discover for themselves at film’s end.

French Red Cross doctor Mathilde Beaulieu (Lou de Laâge, right) frequently runs afoul of her colleague, Samuel (Vincent Macaigne, left), in her attempt to treat a group of pregnant nuns in director Anne Fontaine’s “The Innocents,” now available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand. Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

“The Innocents” captivates from start to finish. Director Anne Fontaine has crafted a gripping drama featuring superb performances, gorgeous cinematography and an ethereal soundtrack, all of which suit the picture well, lending an otherworldly quality to this fact-based saga. Viewers will no doubt wonder how it will ultimately play out, a fitting tribute for a film that has the question of faith at its very heart.

Sometimes our lives may appear as though they’re unfolding at random. However, if we look to our beliefs and the intents we put forth, we might find that there are definite purposes and directions to them, even if they don’t superficially make sense. The rewards that come from abiding by such notions may fill us with satisfaction beyond imagination. And, in the end, all it takes is a little faith.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

‘Manchester by the Sea’ wrestles with redemption, forgiveness, choice

“Manchester by the Sea” (2016). Cast: Casey Affleck, Michelle Williams, Kyle Chandler, Lucas Hedges, Gretchen Mol, Matthew Broderick, C.J. Wilson, Tom Kemp, Anna Baryshnikov, Kara Hayward, Tate Donovan, Josh Hamilton, Jami Tennille Mingo, Heather Burns, Susan Pourfar, Ruibo Qian, Stephen McKinley Henderson, Ben O’Brien. Director: Kenneth Lonergan. Screenplay: Kenneth Lonergan. Web site. Trailer.

It’s been said we can never go home again. But what if circumstances arise that force us into doing just that? How will we respond? Can we handle it? And what will the fallout be? Those are among the questions raised in the new domestic drama, “Manchester by the Sea.”

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) lives a rather unassuming life. As an apartment building custodian in Quincy, Massachusetts, he tends to the everyday repairs of tenants and the upkeep of the common areas while leading a quiet existence in a one-room basement unit. It might not seem like much, but it seems to suit his needs just fine.

However, Lee’s routine undergoes a major shock one day when he receives word that his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler), has passed away from congestive heart failure. Even though Lee knew that his brother was living with the condition, the news still comes somewhat unexpectedly, especially since Joe’s death occurred while he was doing his usual, everyday work stint on his fishing boat in the tiny seaport of Manchester-by-the-Sea. Lee immediately sets everything aside and makes the 90-minute trip to the town where Joe lived and where he grew up. It’s a trip Lee’s not looking forward to making, not only because of his brother’s passing, but also because of his own tragic memories of the place, incidents that prompted him to move away to start a new life.

Once in Manchester, Lee is left to confront many of his ghosts, depicted through a series of flashbacks. He gets to relive his brother’s troubled relationship with his wife, Elise (Gretchen Mol), an irresponsible spouse and mother known for her drinking binges, an issue Lee struggles with somewhat himself. He also must face the bitter memories of life with his own ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams), a woman he adored but whose heart he tragically broke. It’s a lot for him to take in at the time of this latest loss.

But, on top of all that, Lee learns upon his arrival that he’s been named the legal guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges), a decision Joe never discussed with him nor informed him about. Despite his concern for Patrick’s well-being, Lee is reluctant to take on this responsibility for a variety of reasons; some of his reservations are tied to his past, while others relate to his present and future, such as the possibility of having to relocate back to a town that has been the source of so much pain and in which he’s seen by many as something of a pariah.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck, left) struggles with whether he wants to become the legal guardian of his 16-year-old nephew, Patrick (Lucas Hedges, right), in director Kenneth Lonergan’s latest offering, “Manchester by the Sea.” Photo by Claire Fogler, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

What is Lee to do? How will matters work out between him and Patrick? And can he bring closure to the issues of his past (especially those related to his relationship with Randi, who is now remarried and expecting)? Lee has opportunities for redemption and forgiveness, but will he avail himself of them? Or is he unable to move past what he sees as irreconcilable self-imposed limitations?

“Manchester by the Sea” delves deeply into what it means to get second chances – and whether we can handle them when we do. In situations like this, there are seldom any inherently right or wrong answers, only choices. But how do we choose? That’s the crucial question, and it all comes down to what we believe about ourselves, for those beliefs will determine the outcome, just as they do in any of our manifestations. This is the cornerstone principle of the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

In this story, Lee clearly has some difficult choices to make. Some of them could heap more pain on an already-wounded soul. But others could potentially provide him with big payoffs, some of which he may not even be able to envision at this point. In either case, the decision rests with him, so he must take stock of where he is and what he wants.

In confronting the ghosts of his past, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck, right) wrestles with his feelings about his ex-wife, Randi (Michelle Williams, left), in the new domestic drama, “Manchester by the Sea.” Photo by Claire Fogler, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

As noted above, Lee’s circumstances have provided him with major opportunities for redemption and forgiveness. This is significant because he need not be permanently saddled with his past. He can start anew, putting his previous creations to rest in favor of a fresh start – if he chooses to do so.

Because one of conscious creation’s chief aims is making it possible to learn significant life lessons, it does so in myriad ways. Some of them may put us through the ringer, while others offer us the chance for renewal. But, in either case, the impact of those lessons is never unchangeable. We can learn from our experiences and decide to move forward from them in new directions. That’s the essence of redemption, and beliefs in that notion and in forgiveness are what help to make it possible.

However, such an outcome is far from automatic, especially if we doubt or don’t believe in the possibility. If we reconcile ourselves to the idea that we can never be redeemed nor forgiven – or, worse yet, that we can’t forgive ourselves – then redemption simply won’t happen. That’s unfortunate, too, since it need not be that way.

Circumstances like this naturally raise the question, why can’t we do this? In most cases, it’s a matter of self-imposed limitations, usually driven by an inability to envision alternate possibilities. By locking ourselves into such belief positions, we can’t get past our own metaphysical tunnel vision, and, in doing so, we artificially cut ourselves off from portions of the infinite range of options that the conscious creation process makes possible.

One way to combat this is to recognize that the point of power is in the present moment. It is the only time at which we have any direct control over what we create. We have no power over a past that is behind us or a future that has not yet occurred. However, we do have the option to let those time frames have power over us. By adhering to beliefs that let the ghosts of our past or worries about our future determine how we act in the now, we intentionally invite personal stagnation. But, by being willing to shift our thinking, we have an opportunity to become unstuck.

These are the choices Lee now faces. What will he do? That all depends on how well he’s able to navigate through the foregoing principles. No matter the outcome, his experience provides us a valuable example to draw from should we be faced with comparable circumstances ourselves.

In a bittersweet flashback sequence, Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck, foreground) bids a painful farewell to his brother, Joe (Kyle Chandler, background), in “Manchester by the Sea.” Photo by Claire Fogler, courtesy of Amazon Studios and Roadside Attractions.

Writer-director Kenneth Lonergan’s latest is a moderately entertaining, sometimes-moving character study with relatively profound explorations of redemption, forgiveness and understanding one’s limitations. But the film is also occasionally an exercise in taking itself far too seriously, with more than a few pregnant pauses, lingering shots of mugging emoting, throwaway slice-of-life sequences and tangents that aren’t fully developed. Affleck and Hedges turn in capable but somewhat overrated performances, though Williams steals the show with what should be an Oscar-winning supporting portrayal. Enjoy this one, but don’t get taken in by the hype.

Still, despite the production’s shortcomings, the film has earned five Independent Spirit Award nominations, including best feature, best male lead, best supporting male, best screenplay and best editing. It’s likely to pick up additional nominations in a number of other upcoming competitions as well.

In witnessing stories like those portrayed on the screen here, we may be tempted to ask ourselves, why must life be so hard? Difficult though such circumstances may be, they’re all part of the human experience, in all of its permutations, for better or worse. Let’s hope we learn the lessons that come from our explorations in adversity so that we can put them behind us and move forward on to bigger and better things. In doing so, though, we must remember that the power to decide how we proceed always rests with us, especially in terms of what we choose and what we believe. And, in light of that, we should be sure we choose wisely.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Meaning behind Movies

Are movies just entertainment, or are there messages we can learn from them? Tune in to the next Positive Vibrations Roundtable podcast on Self Discovery Radio, where I'll discuss the subject with author Sam Hawksmoor and show host Sara Troy. The broadcast will be available for the next week by clicking here and from the show's web site for on-demand listening thereafter. Join us for some fun and thoughtful movie talk!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

‘Christine’ struggles with integrity, ambition

“Christine” (2016). Cast: Rebecca Hall, Michael C. Hall, Tracy Letts, Maria Dizzia, J. Smith-Cameron, Timothy Simons, Kim Shaw, John Cullum, Morgan Spector, Jayson Warner Smith, Kimberley Drummond, Lindsay Ayliffe, Ritchie Montgomery. Director: Antonio Campos. Screenplay: Craig Shilowich. Web site. Trailer.

Staying on top of things when we’re under constant pressure to perform can be challenging enough, even under the best of circumstances. But, when we add to that issues of unresolved ambition, the pursuit of integrity, personal problems and health concerns, we might easily be pushed over the brink. Such is the case for a troubled television reporter seeking to do worthwhile work and make a name for herself in the disturbing new biographical drama, “Christine.”

Based on actual events, the film follows the life of 29-year-old Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall), a struggling TV reporter in Sarasota, Florida, at a time (1974) when broadcast news was undergoing a number of changes, both technologically and in terms of content, even at the local level. Sensationalization of the news was fast gaining a foothold, giving rise to the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy still in use today. For stations like the one Christine worked at, such exploitation was seen as a way to increase ratings, a particularly important concern for those that needed to bolster ad revenues.

Needless to say, this radical new outlook was quite an adjustment for many veteran reporters, especially those accustomed to doing more conventional work. For someone like Christine, who believed that news should go beyond just presenting facts, this meant educating viewers on issues of public interest, especially those that might not otherwise receive much attention. Unfortunately, the kinds of stories Christine wanted to cover, like those associated with zoning issues, were about as interesting as watching paint dry. Her reports did little to help ratings, and, consequently, she began to be marginalized by the news director (Tracy Letts), who was under pressure from station owner Bob Andersen (John Cullum) to boost income.

Even though Christine railed at the new exploitative approach, she also wanted to make a name for herself, especially when she learned that Andersen was looking to recruit staff from Sarasota for his recently acquired station in Baltimore. She vacillated between doing the kinds of “thoughtful” pieces she had been reporting and embracing the “juicy” stories the news director was urging her to do. This often left her confused when trying to determine what would make worthwhile copy, a major frustration for her and a source of bewilderment for her colleagues who were trying to understand her.

Local TV reporter Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) contemplates her career, her ambitions and her responsibilities as a journalist in the gripping new drama, “Christine.” Photo by Joe Anderson, courtesy of The Orchard.

Off-air, Christine had her share of challenges, too. She began experiencing health issues, which she initially chalked up to stress but later discovered were more serious. She struggled with her love life, which often left much to be desired, especially in her romantically ambivalent involvement with a colleague, anchorman George Ryan (Michael C. Hall). And then there was her strange relationship with her mother, Peg (J. Smith-Cameron), with whom she shared an apartment, as well as many an argument over seemingly trivial or even imagined issues.

This combination of factors left Christine a woman constantly on edge. Who was she? What did she want to become? What did she really think about her work and the responsibilities associated with being a journalist? It proved to be a lot for her to handle.

It’s difficult to talk about this film without playing spoiler, something I’m highly reluctant to do. Even with the relative notoriety of this story, which is widely known and in the public record, to preserve the picture’s impact (particularly for those unfamiliar with Christine’s history), I won’t divulge what happens, other than to say it’s indeed tragic. The film aptly depicts what it means to wrestle with multiple, seemingly overwhelming challenges simultaneously, circumstances that many of us can probably relate to these days. Christine’s experience provides a poignant cautionary tale for anyone who seems destined for their own descent into madness.

Circumstances like these naturally raise the question, how could this have happened? In many ways, Christine comes across as a bright, organized consummate professional, sincere about what she hopes to accomplish through her work. But, then, at other times, she seems out of touch, inept and overly emotional over seemingly inexplicable issues. Given her goals, however – the simultaneous pursuit of ambition and integrity – the combination proves a volatile mix, one in which the individual objectives aren’t always compatible with one another. And, when these get added to the pressures of her personal life, it’s almost more than she can bear.

Sarasota TV anchorman George Ryan (Michael C. Hall) struggles to understand an enigmatic colleague in director Antonio Campos’s new biographical drama, “Christine.” Photo by Joe Anderson, courtesy of The Orchard.

Situations like this illustrate the importance of getting a handle on not only what we want to achieve, but also how we see ourselves. And this requires us to get a handle on our beliefs, the means by which we manifest what we experience through the conscious creation process, the mechanism that brings our reality into existence.

When we’re clear about what we hope to accomplish, our reality tends to reflect such lucidity, resulting in an existence full of creations that suit our expectations. However, when we’re unfocused about our hoped-for achievements, the result is usually chaos and confusion. This is particularly true when our beliefs encompass inherent contradictions. The beliefs tend to cancel one another out in these scenarios, or they lead to the materialization of highly distorted outcomes. In either case, the results are far off the mark from what we hope to attain.

In Christine’s case, for instance, she’s big on doing work characterized by integrity and high-mindedness. She wants her work to be a shining reflection of herself, and she hopes that her audience will get something meaningful out of the experience. But, given the largely boring nature of much of her work, it’s hard to imagine her viewers getting much out of them beyond 40 winks.

At the same time, though, she also has big aspirations about being a reporter in a top 30 market, like Baltimore, but that’s a position she’ll attain only by getting noticed. And getting noticed means doing the kinds of “sexy” stories that her news director (and, most likely, audiences) want to see.

So how does a reporter make a story about zoning issues captivating? That would be quite a trick, even for the most creatively minded journalist. For someone like Christine, who struggles with creating on-air stories that reflect either of the traits she aspires to, let alone both, the process must ultimately become utterly maddening. The end products come out being “distorted” from fulfilling their true, underlying intents. They fail to satisfy audiences and the powers that be, which, in turn, lead to the dissatisfaction and frustration of their creator. Under conditions like this, is it any wonder that the protagonist is left puzzled, exasperated and, in the end, angry?

No matter what aspect of existence we work on creating, Christine’s story offers us a valuable cautionary tale about how to proceed and the pitfalls to avoid. If conditions like those she experiences are allowed to persist, the outcome could prove devastating for us, as well as those we serve and who care about our well-being. We would be wise to take the necessary time to look within, to sort out what we most dearly want to achieve and to focus on the materializing beliefs that are most likely to make such outcomes possible. To do otherwise may well prove to be an exercise in disappointment, vexation and tragedy.

TV journalist Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hall) struggles to balance issues of integrity and ambition in the riveting new biographical drama, “Christine.” Photo courtesy of The Orchard.

“Christine” provides a riveting, albeit troubling portrait of an ambitious but disturbed woman’s attempts at reconciling the challenges of her life. Rebecca Hall gives a phenomenal, Oscar-worthy breakthrough performance, one that has already earned her the best actress award at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. Director Antonio Campos’s latest is definitely not an easy film to watch, but it’s one that’s difficult to take your eyes off of – not unlike the work the protagonist seeks to create for herself.

Despite its many strengths, the film is not without its faults, such as a concluding sequence that goes on entirely too long and employs an overly derivative ending that’s a little too obvious in its dramatic irony. Nevertheless, the film has much to offer, and, for its efforts, it has earned an Independent Spirit Award nomination for best first screenplay.

Reaching for the top is certainly a laudable ambition, but, if we can’t be ourselves when we engage in its pursuit, we may find ourselves wanting, even longing in desperation, an outcome sure to leave us even worse off. Getting clear about what we really hope to achieve – and how to go about doing it – could well help us stave off such frustrations. But can we realistically achieve that? Stay tuned.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

‘Doctor Strange’ urges us to reach the peak of our potential

“Doctor Strange” (2016). Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Zara Phythian, Alaa Safi, Katrina Durden, Umit Ulgen. Director: Scott Derrickson. Screenplay: Jon Spaihts, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill. Comic book source material: Steve Ditko. Web site. Trailer.

Even when we think we’ve reached the pinnacle of our success, there’s always another summit to be surmounted. That new peak may not be what we’re expecting it to be, taking us in a totally different direction from what we’re accustomed to, but the accomplishments we fulfill when we reach it could be far more fulfilling than we ever imagined. Such is the case for an arrogant know-it-all who embarks on a new life path in the riveting action-adventure, “Doctor Strange.”

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a supremely accomplished New York neurosurgeon – and he knows it. He makes sure everyone else knows it, too. In fact, he’s so enamored with his own abilities that he believes there’s virtually nothing he can’t do. And that may be true – that is, until he’s gravely injured in a horrendous car accident that leaves him clinging to life. It appears he’ll survive, but the tools of his trade – his hands – are so severely damaged that it’s unlikely he’ll regain full use of them for even everyday tasks, let alone performing surgical procedures.

Strange is determined to get back to where he was and vigorously pursues every therapy available to him. But the treatments he tries are all conventional and, given the extent of his injuries, can only take him so far. His colleagues, such as friends and fellow surgeons Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and Dr. Nic West (Michael Stuhlbarg), try encouraging Stephen to make peace with his circumstances, but he won’t hear of it. He’s convinced there must be some way to get back to where he was before the accident. And, just when he’s about to give up hope, he learns of a treatment that helped turn around the life of a comparably injured patient (Benjamin Bratt). With nothing to lose, Stephen decides to pursue it – even if it means spending the last of his resources on a long shot that involves a journey to Nepal.

Once in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, Stephen searches high and low for Kamar-Taj, an enigmatic enclave that supposedly houses providers of the little-known healing treatment. When he finds it, with the assistance of a mysterious stranger named Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), it proves to be nothing like what he expected. In fact, he learns that the healing “treatment” is not something that he’ll receive from someone else but, rather, that it’s something he’ll perform on himself – that is, after he’s properly trained in how to do it by a mystical master simply known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton).

Upon learning what that training involves, Strange is ready to pick up and leave. As someone trained in the rationale of science and reason, he’s not about to buy into anything that he considers airy fairy New Age nonsense. But, when he sees demonstrations of what’s possible when these special powers are harnessed, he’s amazed and agrees to go along with the program.

Progress comes slow at first, in large part because Stephen needs to get past his own ego. He even doubts whether any of this training is going to work. But, when pushed to the brink, he’s forced into tapping into his powers just to survive. It’s at that point that Strange begins to realize his full potential and what he can do with his newfound abilities.

In particular, Strange learns about a range of powers he never knew existed. In essence, he discovers the secrets of what most of us call the law of attraction (otherwise known as conscious creation), as well as the nature of multiple dimensions of existence. And, just as he became adept in his surgical skills, he becomes so proficient in these new abilities that he quickly masters them. He’ll need them, too, especially when he, Mordo and the Ancient One are forced into matching wits with an evil nemesis, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who seeks to corner the use of these powers for his own self-serving purposes.

Will Dr. Strange and his cohorts succeed in their quest? Like what happens in most action-adventure releases, that, of course, is the key question here, too. But, given his newfound abilities, how he proceeds is what’s most important. His tactics may prove particularly enlightening, especially to audiences new to conscious creation/law of attraction philosophy, the means by which we manifest our existence through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. By seeing these ideas put into action through specific, tangible deeds, viewers thus have an opportunity to learn about them in a meaningful, powerful way. This may allow the concepts to resonate with them profoundly, leaving an impact on them that they can take out of the theater and employ in their everyday lives.

The film is especially commendable for its accurate presentation of these notions. All too often, these metaphysical principles are explained in ill-serving vague, inaccurate or biased ways. In particular, these concepts are frequently presented only in terms of their “positive” attributes, their “negative” traits summarily dismissed as if they didn’t exist. However, as conscious creation practitioners are well aware, this philosophy treats its concepts as “neutral,” that they can be employed for either “good” or “bad” purposes, depending on the intents backing them.

A knife, for example, can be used as a life-saving surgical tool or as a murderous weapon. Likewise, certain chemical substances can be used for medicinal purposes or as deadly poisons. And then there’s the power of the atom, which can be harnessed to power a city or to destroy it. Countless other examples can be cited to illustrate this point, and all of them make clear the power of the beliefs and intents that go into the creation and deployment of these manifestations, for better or worse.

“Doctor Strange” makes clear that we can employ the conscious creation process for serving the greater good or for dastardly deeds. It all comes down to what beliefs underlie it. The film makes the distinction clear and shows us how we can use the practice in our own lives.

As the film shows, if we’re intent on using this process for altruistic purposes, we need to realize that we’re part of a larger whole, an individual voice in a greater chorus. And, to appreciate that, we must also get past our own ego. As the movie opens, Stephen clearly has his work cut out for him on this point. But, as he learns how to embrace a sense of humility and detach from self-serving outcomes, he’s able to move forward with his quest. This is in stark contrast to Kaecilius, who obviously wants to use this process only for his own selfish ends, largely because he hasn’t learned the valuable lesson that his opponent has. The examples set by these two characters in this regard provide us with significant insights to consider should we wish to tackle comparable challenges of our own. We should pay attention, too, because the consequences at stake in situations like this may be far greater than we realize.

While clothed in the form of an action-adventure film, “Doctor Strange” is actually, in many ways, a metaphysical treatise on the foregoing principles. It illustrates what it means to be a master of our own destiny, particularly when it comes to changing circumstances we believe unalterable, tackling challenges thought to be insurmountable and becoming the individuals we never envisioned we could be. The picture adeptly explains these points in easily understood layman’s terms and does so through a fun, rollicking rollercoaster ride. Those who like some substance with their fluff will certainly enjoy this well-executed fusion of meaningful teachings with a highly entertaining good time. Admittedly, some of the fight sequences go on a little long, there are some pacing issues in the last 45 minutes and Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hammy overacting becomes progressively tedious as the story unfolds. But a well-written script, superb special effects (especially in the 3-D version) and fine performances by all of the other principals make this worthwhile viewing.

Exceeding our limits is something many of us would like to achieve, even if we’re unaware of this aspiration. Sometimes it just takes getting out of our own way and letting our natural abilities flow through us. It can be a hard lesson, but as the good doctor’s experience shows, the effort in the end is well worth it. After all, the world may depend on it.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Monday, November 21, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Doctor Strange," "Christine" and "The Innocents," along with a podcast preview, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

‘A Man Called Ove’ explores our purpose in life

“A Man Called Ove” (“En man som heter Ove”) (2015 production, 2016 release). Cast: Rolf Lassgård, Bahar Pars, Ida Engvoll, Tobias Almborg, Börge Lundberg, Chatarina Larsson, Klas Wiljegård, Filip Berg, Poyan Karimi, Anna-Lena Bergelin, Stefan Gödicke, Simeon Lindgren, Maja Rung, Ola Hedén, Viktor Baagøe, Christoffer Nordenrot, Simon Reithner, Nelly Jamarani, Zozan Akgün. Director: Hannes Holm. Screenplay: Hannes Holm. Book: Fredrik Backman, A Man Called Ove (En man som heter Ove). Web site. Trailer.

When we get on in years, we may feel like we lose our purpose for living, especially if the things we hold most dear – like our jobs and significant others – are no longer part of our lives. It may even prompt many of us to contemplate whether we want to consider carrying on. That’s the dilemma faced by a curmudgeonly 59-year-old who wonders whether life is still worth it as seen in the delightful new Swedish comedy, “A Man Called Ove” (“En man som heter Ove”), now playing in limited release and soon to be available on DVD, Blu-ray disk and video on demand.

Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård) has grown increasingly dissatisfied with his life. As the former head of his local homeowners’ association, he’s embittered at having lost his power, yet he still feels compelled to do daily rounds of the community to check for compliance with the organization’s rules, a frustrating exercise that perpetually reinforces his opinion of his neighbors as idiots. But, if that weren’t bad enough, he next learns he’s being squeezed out of his job of 43 years, a casualty of the rise of technology. And, on top of all that, he wrestles with his grief over the loss of his beloved wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll), the only person he’s convinced ever gave him any joy in his life.

Ove Lindahl (Rolf Lassgård), a cantankerous widower who’s recently lost his job and his standing as head of the local homeowners’ association, contemplates whether he wants to carry on with his life in the delightful new Swedish comedy, “A Man Called Ove” (“En man som heter Ove”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

With everything seemingly working against him, Ove believes that maybe it’s time he joined Sonja. He methodically begins wrapping up his affairs in anticipation of committing suicide. But, when the big moment comes, he’s distracted by a ruckus outside his home, one that clearly involves multiple violations of homeowner association rules. He resolves that he can’t possibly kill himself until he sets to right the impertinent scofflaws, his new neighbors, Patrik (Tobias Almborg), Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and their two children, Sepideh (Nelly Jamarani) and Nasanin (Zozan Akgün).

Once Ove doles out one of his signature tongue lashings, he returns home to follow through on his suicidal intent. However, once again, he’s interrupted, an occurrence that subsequently happens repeatedly each time he tries to do himself in. Whether it’s helping his wheelchair-bound neighbor Rune (Börge Lundberg), a young gay man kicked out by his close-minded family (Poyan Karimi), his pudgy young neighbor (Klas Wiljegård) or even a stray, largely ungrateful cat, Ove never gets to follow through on his objective.

Interestingly, though, each time Ove tries his hand at suicide, he begins looking back on his life as a child (Viktor Baagøe) and as a younger man (Filip Berg). Through these visionary experiences, Ove gets to see the purpose he’s served in the lives of others throughout the years, something that he feels he’s lost all these decades later. However, as his experiences with his needy neighbors show, Ove obviously still fills a need in the lives of others. All he need do is recognize this, provided he’ll allow himself to do so.

A young Ove Lindahl (Filip Berg, right) courts his future wife, Sonja (Ida Engvoll, left), in a touching scene from the charming new Swedish comedy, “A Man Called Ove” (“En man som heter Ove”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

All of us like to feel needed in our own way. Unfortunately, as we age, many of us may begin to feel that taken away from us, either by the ravages of time or decisions of others. If we buy into a belief that we lack usefulness, circumstances reflecting that notion may begin to materialize, and the more we embrace them (unwittingly or otherwise), the more they’ll begin to take on a life of their own. That’s not exactly how most of us would probably want to spend our remaining years.

Beliefs, as we all know, are powerful things, and they play an integral role in the conscious creation process, the means by which we create the reality we experience. This applies regardless of the nature of the beliefs, too, for better or worse. If we believe we serve a purpose in life, one will emerge to comply with the intent that spawned it. However, if we buy into a contrary notion, a comparable result will arise in line with its instigating belief.

Given the developments in Ove’s life, he’s begun buying into the idea that he no longer serves a purpose, that maybe he’d be better off in the company of his dear, departed Sonja. But does he really believe this? Again, as Ove’s recollections of his life pass before his eyes during his attempted suicides, he sees that he has always played an important part in the lives of others. When his mother died when he was a child, for instance, Ove became a constant help and companion to his lonely father (Stefan Gödicke). Later, after he and Sonja married and moved into their residential community, he became head of the homeowners’ organization, assuring that everyone abided by the rules and verifying that everything was shipshape, efforts that were a big help to his fellow association head, Rune in the days before he became wheelchair-bound (Simeon Lindgren).

But now that conditions in Ove’s life have changed, he’s begun to doubt his usefulness. That’s important to recognize, given that doubt – which is a belief in itself – is one of the key ways we can significantly undercut our manifestation efforts. However, just because conditions have changed somewhat, does this mean that they’ve changed completely? Is it really a case of all or nothing? Ove might think so, but that need not be the case, and, on some level, even he doesn’t believe so. If he did, then one of his attempted suicides surely would have succeeded. And, since none of them did, then obviously it’s not Ove’s time to check out.

Just because our circumstances have changed doesn’t mean we need abandon our aspirations (or their underlying beliefs). Perhaps we need only make adjustments, which, in Ove’s case, would be entirely understandable. For instance, since Ove’s now an older man, one whose physical condition isn’t what it once was, perhaps he needs to slow down a bit, to relinquish some of what he believes to be his sole responsibilities. But that doesn’t mean he needs to give up on everything he’s accustomed to doing. He must believe that to some degree, too, especially when he willingly gives up on killing himself to help out others on so many occasions. In that sense, then, learning how to alter our beliefs to make them more manageable rather than discarding them totally may be the wiser course to pursue.

Helping his new neighbor, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars, second from right), and her two children, Sepideh (Nelly Jamarani, second from left) and Nasanin (Zozan Akgün, right), is one of the reasons for living that Ove (Rolf Lassgård, left), an aging, cantankerous curmudgeon, unexpectedly discovers in the delightful new Swedish comedy, “A Man Called Ove” (“En man som heter Ove”). Photo courtesy of Music Box Films.

As demonstrated in this film and others like it, such as “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011) and its sequel (2015), it’s never too late to contribute to life, no matter how much we may have allowed ourselves to believe otherwise. When we recognize that we still have a purpose, we can formulate beliefs that allow us to satisfy it. In conscious creation terms this is known as our value fulfillment, the act of living our lives as our best, truest selves for our own benefit and that of others. Despite his notions to the contrary, Ove still has value fulfillment to live out, and it would benefit both him and others to see that through while he’s still able to do so.

“A Man Called Ove” is a quirky, bittersweet comedy that takes a little time to find traction, and it waxes more than a little melodramatic on occasion. However, its clever storytelling, fine performances, offbeat humor and charming narrative make up for some of its formulaic shortcomings. It’s a touching, fun-filled matinee offering, one that’s sure to lift us out of the doldrums when they seem to be closing in on us.

Ove’s experience shows us what it means to feel needed, to have a purpose in life. His story serves as a valuable cautionary tale to those who believe they no longer have a place in the world. Many of us contribute more than we realize; if only we’d open our eyes and take a good, hard look at our existence and the role we play. It’s hard to imagine fewer things ultimately more fulfilling than that.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Friday, November 18, 2016

‘Loving’ depicts its namesake’s undeniable power

“Loving” (2016). Cast: Joel Edgerton, Ruth Negga, Michael Shannon, Will Dalton, Winter-Lee Holland, Terri Abney, Alano Miller, Marton Csokas, Bill Camp, David Jensen, Nick Kroll, Jon Bass, Sharon Blackwood, Andrene Ward-Hammond, Jennifer Joyner, Jevin Crochrell, Jordan Williams Jr., Georgia Crawford, Brenan Young, Dalyn M. Cleckley, Quinn McPherson. Director: Jeff Nichols. Screenplay: Jeff Nichols. Web site. Trailer.

Who we fall in love with is no one’s business but our own. However, it wasn’t always that way. As recently as the 1960s, interracial marriage was illegal in a number of states. But, in the end, laws weren’t enough to separate those whose love destined them to be together. One couple’s precedent-setting fight to assert this fundamental right provides the basis for the touching new historical drama, “Loving.”

The profound love between Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton), a white man, and his soul mate, Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga), a black woman, was obvious for all to see. Unfortunately, such highly visible adoration also became a liability for the couple. In 1950s rural Virginia, such relationships were generally looked upon disapprovingly, even contemptuously, especially for those who dared display their affection publicly. What’s worse, these attitudes were backed by the force of the state’s anti-miscegenation law. Nevertheless, Richard was adamant about marrying his pregnant fiancée, and he sought to circumvent the legal restriction by wedding Mildred in the District of Columbia, a jurisdiction where no interracial marriage ban was in place.

After their simple civil ceremony, Richard and Mildred returned to their home in Virginia. But, not long after their return, they were arrested by the local sheriff (Marton Csokas) for violation of the anti-miscegenation law, despite possessing a legally valid marriage license from the District of Columbia. They were jailed and brought before the local judge (David Jensen), who had no tolerance for such “disdainful” relationships. The Lovings’ lawyer (Bill Camp), a friend of the judge, managed to negotiate a plea deal to get Richard’s and Mildred’s prison time dropped, but that arrangement hinged on their agreement to move out of state for 25 years. Given Mildred’s pregnancy, the couple agreed to the judge’s terms, and so they relocated to the city of their wedding ceremony, albeit reluctantly.

Virginia residents Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton, left) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga, right) seek to circumvent the state’s anti-miscegenation law by marrying in the District of Columbia, a jurisdiction with no such restriction, in the moving, heartfelt new biopic, “Loving.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

While in Washington, the Lovings began raising a family, with Mildred giving birth to three children, two sons and a daughter. They lived largely free from persecution, but Mildred abhorred city life. She was concerned that her kids didn’t have an opportunity enjoy the pleasures of the country, a concern exacerbated when one of her sons was hit by a car while playing in the street. She desperately wanted to move back to Virginia and sought help to realize her goal.

With the rise of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, Mildred wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy to seek his assistance. Her impassioned letter, in turn, led to a referral to an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer, Bernard Cohen (Nick Kroll), who agreed to take her on as a client. Aided by experienced civil rights attorney Phil Hirschkop (Jon Bass), Cohen viewed the Lovings’ situation as an ideal test case for the Supreme Court. And, even though Richard and Mildred weren’t especially anxious for the publicity that would accompany such a legal battle, their situation quickly gained national attention, particularly when they were featured in a Life magazine article titled “The Crime of Being Married” featuring images snapped by photographer Grey Villet (Michael Shannon). In the end, Richard and Mildred agreed to pursue the case, especially if a ruling in their favor would benefit not only them, but also others similarly situated in the 16 states that still had anti-miscegenation laws in place at the time. It proved to be a gamble that paid off handsomely, resulting in one of the landmark court cases of the civil rights era.

To say the least, the Lovings courageously faced their fears and lived the life of heroes in their pursuit of securing one of our most cherished fundamental rights. From the very beginning, they envisioned spending their lives together, despite the legal obstacles and regardless of whatever others thought. They pushed past these limitations and moved ahead with their plans, knowing what they were up against.

Such actions clearly reflect the efforts of determined practitioners of conscious creation, the philosophy that maintains we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents. Even if Richard and Mildred had never heard of this practice, their efforts and the outcomes that stemmed from them nevertheless mirror many of its inherent principles. They pictured what they wanted to achieve, formed beliefs to make it possible and forged ahead to bring it into being. There may have been challenges and setbacks along the way, but such obstacles helped galvanize them in their beliefs, making them ever more resolute to see their dreams realized.

The Lovings’ efforts had wide-ranging impact, too. In addition to giving legitimacy to their marriage, the ruling in their case granted legal status to countless other couples facing similar circumstances. The Supreme Court’s holding obliterated a patchwork of unjust laws that had been in place in some jurisdictions since before the American Revolution, a questionable centuries-old practice wiped out overnight by a sweeping unanimous decision. The ruling gave protection to those whose marriages had been technically illegal and opened the door to interracial marriage freedom for others going forward. The precedent set in this case also gave ample ammunition to those who sought, and later successfully secured, comparable protection for the marriage of same-sex couples.

To that end, the Lovings valiantly lived out their value fulfillment, the conscious creation concept associated with leading our lives as our best, truest selves for our own benefit and that of others. Their precedent-setting efforts changed the law and, subsequently, the culture, with an undeniable impact that has lasted ever since and that has often been applied by those in other contexts in search of justice of their own. And to think it all stemmed from something as simple as being allowed to openly profess one’s love for another.

Mildred and Richard Loving (Ruth Negga, left, Joel Edgerton, right) seek justice for the legality of their marriage during the civil rights era in director Jeff Nichols’s new offering, “Loving.” Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

“Loving” beautifully depicts what it means to love someone, regardless of the impediments, a message that continually needs reinforcement when prejudicial attitudes threaten the sanctity of such relationships. Director Jeff Nichols’s heartfelt, personal take on the couple’s experience effectively shows the impact of a big story brought down to the human level, capably depicting how ordinary people deal with extraordinary circumstances. The film’s understated writing, nuanced performances and successful handling of legal issues that could have easily become unwieldy lend much to this well-crafted biopic, one worthy of all the accolades it has and will likely receive, such as its Palme d’Or nomination at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the event’s highest honor. Despite some occasional pacing issues in the second hour, this picture is truly one of the standout offerings of this year’s awards season releases.

It’s mind-boggling that something as simple as the issue debated here should be allowed to become so needlessly complicated. The beliefs that create hindrances seem intrinsically unnecessary, even patently ridiculous. But sometimes it takes working through – and past – such obstructions to help us understand and appreciate the importance of these precious and valued concepts. Thankfully, we have role models like the Lovings who help us see the wisdom in pursuing, protecting and preserving them. We owe them a lot, but they would probably take the praise in stride, given that all they really wanted was to be with one another. And for them, and for many others like them, that may ultimately be enough.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

‘Arrival’ seeks to bridge gaps in understanding

“Arrival” (2016). Cast: Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Forest Whitaker, Michael Stuhlbarg, Mark O’Brien, Tzi Ma, Jadyn Malone, Carmella Nossa Guizzo, Abigail Pniowsky, Julia Scarlett Dan. Director: Denis Villeneuve. Screenplay: Eric Heisserer. Story: Ted Chiang, “The Story of Your Life.” Web site. Trailer.

Something as simple as saying “hello” shouldn’t be difficult, right? But what if we were up against that task in the context of contact with aliens? How would we respond? In fact, where would we even begin? Establishing a connection and effective communication are crucial. However, such critical concerns notwithstanding, an even more fundamental consideration is developing an understanding of how we each view the nature of existence. Without that, we may never even get to hello. These are among the questions a team of experts wrestles with in the profound, thought-provoking new sci-fi thriller, “Arrival.”

When linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) shows up to teach her class one day, she finds the lecture hall nearly empty. She’s somewhat surprised but decides to proceed as usual until one of her students receives a call on her cell phone, who then asks that Dr. Banks turn on the classroom television to one of the news channels. Upon doing so, she and the few remaining students learn that a dozen alien ships have arrived in various locations around the globe. The enormous crafts are quite imposing but don’t appear to be an imminent threat. Nevertheless, jets are scrambled, blockades are set up and a state of emergency is declared. And class, needless to say, is canceled when a university evacuation is ordered.

Dr. Banks returns home to await what’s next. But, before long, she’s contacted by Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), a special forces military officer with whom she worked on special projects in the past. Because of her linguistics proficiency, she proved a valuable asset in translating messages related to the war on terror. If she were so helpful in that context, authorities presume, then she must be the go-to person to tap in learning how to communicate with aliens.

Dr. Banks is quickly whisked off to Montana, one of the alien ship landing sites. She’s teamed with theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), who’s anxious to learn secrets of the aliens’ technology. However, before tackling such complex tasks, Dr. Banks suggests that they address more basic matters – like saying hello – first. Backed by Colonel Weber, Dr. Banks sets out to determine who the visitors are and what their reason is for coming here. This thus sets in motion a remarkable journey of discovery that transcends such obvious questions, prompting Louise, Ian and the Colonel to reassess their views on the very nature of reality and our individual and collective places within it. And, with a world quickly broaching the prospect of global war because of this development, the trio of investigators had better work quickly, not only for humanity’s sake, but also for that of the new arrivals.

Deciphering an alien “language” is the objective of linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams, back to camera) in the thought-provoking new sci-fi thriller, “Arrival.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

As the story unfolds, the film becomes more than just another movie about aliens. It goes much deeper to explore what it means to exist, the nature of reality and even the essence of time. This is heady material, to be sure, but it prods viewers into taking a deeper look at who we are, how we live our lives and how we view the functioning of existence. In that sense, the picture is as much a metaphysical treatise as it is an inventive work of fiction but one that truly gives us pause to consider the core of being – and what we might want to do with it.

The ramifications of what’s at stake in this film, both between us and the aliens and amongst ourselves, couldn’t be higher, yet, ironically, they rest on the most fundamental of considerations. If we’re to bridge the gaps between us, be it across species or across cultures, we must be able to understand one another. And, if we’re to achieve that, we must first believe that it’s possible, an essential element of the conscious creation process, the means by which we manifest the reality we experience through the power of our thoughts, beliefs and intents.

As Dr. Bank’s mission clearly illustrates, under such circumstances we must specifically work on establishing beliefs related to our communications skills, particularly the ability to make them function clearly and smoothly in both directions. However, as the intrepid linguist discovers, this involves more than just figuring out the word equivalencies from one language to another. It also requires that we understand the fundamental prevailing worldview that underlies each language in the first place. And, to appreciate that other worldview, we must understand the core beliefs that form its basis, which ultimately may be far different from those that we employ in shaping our outlook.

Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams) heads a team of experts seeking to establish communication with an alien race in the profound new sci-fi thriller, “Arrival.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

With potential differences like that, even getting to the most rudimentary aspects of communication and understanding could prove incredibly daunting. Dealing with that can be challenging enough from one terrestrial culture to another. But, when we apply this notion to our interaction with a totally foreign species, the ante can be upped considerably. Suppose, for example, we believe that the functioning of reality operates according to certain fundamental, mutually agreed-upon concepts. But what if another species is convinced that existence relies on a completely different set of underlying principles? Our heartfelt convictions and basic assumptions about the nature of reality – and our ability to attempt to communicate about it – would run into a major roadblock before the process even starts.

This brings us back to the importance of sincerely believing that communication and understanding across the species boundary is genuinely possible. If we’re unable to envision such a possibility, however, we’ll never get past square one. But, if we allow ourselves to believe that such dealings are truly possible, we open the door to making them happen.

This involves each side making it possible for the other to understand the beliefs that it holds about the fundamental operation of existence. This involves addressing such questions as how does our reality arise? What qualities govern its operation, be they physical, metaphysical, temporal or spiritual? Does everything that happens have an underlying message or purpose, and, if so, how do we discover what they are? Is our existence predetermined and set in stone, or does it make allowances for variability (and, if so, how)?

An enormous alien craft, one of 12 that have landed around the globe, harbors an enigmatic metaphysical secret in director Denis Villeneuve’s impressive new release, “Arrival.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

As humans, even if we speak different languages, most of us probably agree to a great extent on the answers to those questions. But, when we attempt to communicate with those of another species, the answers may be very different or even unanswerable. This is where we need to look at bridging our gaps in understanding, and that, again, begins with the beliefs we hold about such possibilities going into the process.

Many of us may have rarely, if ever, given much thought to these kinds of concerns. However, if we hope to succeed in our aspirations of reaching out to beings on other worlds (or even in other dimensions) as full-fledged, actively participating citizens of the Universe, maybe we had better start giving more consideration to these ideas. We must get past the basic assumption that everyone (including those belonging to other species) all think and believe along the same lines. Such a narrow view could well derail our efforts in these areas before we ever get started. If we really are the inquisitive explorers we profess ourselves to be, we’d be wise to let our consciousness expand, to take a wider view and adopt such an enlarged outlook, lest we be reconciled to isolation or, even worse, the possibility of misunderstandings that carry devastating consequences.

The lesson in this shouldn’t be lost in our dealings amongst ourselves either. Given the myriad challenges we face on the planet these days, perhaps we should consider taking a closer look at cooperation, rather than competition, in how we relate and interact with one another. Attaining that goal is possible, but, once again, it requires us to embrace beliefs in its feasibility, including those related to envisioning the outcome and being willing to understand the foundational principles that shape our languages, cultures and fundamental worldviews. We might be surprised at what we find, too; we may assume that we have many differences, but we might also find that we have much in common, attributes that can serve as starting points in building bridges over the gaps between us, enabling us to reach a new level of mutual understanding that elevates us to places we may have never before dreamed. It truly could lead us to an “arrival” at a whole new level of awareness about ourselves, our existence and our place in it.

In addition to these grand concepts, many other ideas are explored in this film, most of which are dealt with on a very personal level, as Dr. Banks discovers for herself as she wends her way through the labyrinth of her remarkable odyssey. In many ways, though, what she experiences individually mirrors the story’s bigger questions writ smaller. In either case, though, the lessons raised through the narrative can serve us well, whether we’re talking on a personal level, a cultural level or even a species level.

Theoretical physicist Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner) is part of a team of experts seeking to establish communication with an alien race in the profound new sci-fi thriller, “Arrival.” Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Without a doubt, “Arrival” is one of the best movies I’ve seen in a very long time. Its suspenseful, atmospheric mood, along with its profound metaphysical message, heartfelt narrative and understated performances, combine to deliver one of the most impressive pictures to come out in years. Director Denis Villeneuve’s edge-of-your-seat, edge-of-your-consciousness thriller succeeds where predecessors like “Interstellar” (2014), “Gravity” (2013) and “2010” (1984) came up short or delivered their messages in much less thoughtful or poetic ways. Those who take the time to truly understand this picture, in much the same way as ardent fans of “Signs” (2002) did, will come away richly rewarded. As for me, I left the theater awed and speechless, and, if you approach it with a similarly open mind, it just may do the same to you.

In an age of rampant polarization (as clearly evidenced by the recent presidential campaign, as well as in a host of other milieus), the need to come together couldn’t be greater. But we must be willing to make a concerted effort to see this through. Failure to do this could leave us full of regrets and dashed hopes, but such undesirable outcomes are indeed avoidable. And to think it can all start with something as simple as effectively learning how to say hello.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.

On the Radio this Week

Because of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday, this month’s Movies with Meaning segment on Frankiesense & More radio is being moved up a week to this Thursday, November 17 at 1 pm ET. Join host Frankie Picasso and me as we examine several new film releases. Tune in live or listen to the on-demand podcast for some lively movie talk by clicking here.

Monday, November 14, 2016

This Week in Movies with Meaning

Reviews of "Arrival," "Loving" and "A Man Called Ove," along with a radio preview, are all in the latest Movies with Meaning post on the Blog Page of The Good Radio Network, available by clicking here.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

‘Moonlight’ illuminates alternative possibilities

“Moonlight” (2016). Cast: Trevante Rhodes, André Holland, Naomie Harris, Mahershala Ali, Ashton Sanders, Alex Hibbert, Janelle Monáe, Jharrel Jerome, Jaden Piner, Patrick Decile. Director: Barry Jenkins. Screenplay: Barry Jenkins. Story: Tarell Alvin McCraney. Web site. Trailer.

Finding ourselves can be a difficult enough experience even under the best of circumstances. But, when the process is burdened by challenges and extenuating circumstances, it can become that much more difficult. So it is for a young man trying to discover himself in the gripping new coming of age drama, “Moonlight.”

The film tells the story of Chiron, a young African-American man growing up in Miami and Atlanta. In recounting his experience, the picture examines three phases of his life – his childhood, when he goes by the nickname Little (Alex Hibbert); his teen years, when he identifies with his given name (Ashton Sanders); and young adulthood, when he reluctantly refers to himself as Black (Trevante Rhodes), a nickname given him by a friend. The names are significant, partly because they serve as the titles of each segment but also because they aptly characterize who Chiron is in each phase of his life.

In many respects, Chiron has a number of strikes against him from the outset. As the son of a drug-addicted mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), and an absent father, the shy, small-framed boy is the regular target of bullies, who pick on him for his size and reserved demeanor. He’s frequently withdrawn, rarely speaking and often unresponsive when asked questions.

However, Little’s not without people in his corner, such as Juan (Mahershala Ali), a Cuban immigrant drug dealer, and Teresa (Janelle Monáe), his kindhearted girlfriend. These unlikely caretakers befriend the young man and attend to his needs, particularly when they witness Paula blatantly shirking her responsibilities to satisfy her drug habit. Little also receives encouragement from his childhood friend, Kevin (Jaden Piner), who tries to bolster his buddy’s self-esteem and teach him how to defend himself. Little needs all the support he can get, too, not just because of his circumstances, but also because of qualities he begins to sense about himself – most notably the fact that he might be gay, a trait often looked upon in the African-American community with feelings that are, at best, conflicted and, at worst, unabashedly close-minded.

As Chiron enters his teen years, his awareness of his emerging sexuality grows. But, with no readily available role models to draw upon and with homophobic bullies, such as his loud-mouthed classmate Terrel (Patrick Decile), taunting him at seemingly every turn, Chiron becomes an easy target for abuse. Thankfully, a now-teenage Kevin (Jharrel Jerome) is still in Chiron’s life; he tries to stand by his friend but is eventually confronted with his own challenges that make this difficult.

Upon reaching young adulthood, Black takes drastic measures to take control of his life. Having relocated to Atlanta, he charts a different course from who he had been becoming in Miami. But, in many ways, his “new” life is also a throwback to his upbringing. What’s more, despite appearances of being in charge, he’s also decidedly unsure about who he has become. Is he really the person he wants to be? That’s the question he must ask himself, one that he gets a chance to answer when he receives an unexpected late night phone call from Kevin (André Holland), who he lost contact with after leaving Miami. Will Little/Chiron/Black finally learn who he really is?

When we witness a movie like this, we often ask ourselves, “How can events like those depicted here possibly be allowed to go on?” That’s especially true for those of us who tend to view life from an enlightened and open-minded perspective. But, for what it’s worth, not everyone shares those viewpoints. The homophobic and bullying attitudes on display here, regrettably, are all too real, and this film reflects them in all their hateful expression.

So how is it that such close-minded viewpoints are given license to exist? It’s because those who harbor thoughts, beliefs and intents designed to bring them into being see them through to manifestation. That’s the basis of the conscious creation process, the means by which we materialize the reality we experience.

Knowing that, it might be tempting to ask, “If we have a choice with what we do with our thoughts, beliefs and intents, then why don’t we just make better choices, opting for more enlightened pursuits instead of such malignant endeavors?” That’s a fair question, one that many of us would like to hope should be obvious to us all.

If only it were that easy.

For all of the potential good that conscious creation makes possible, the bottom line with this practice is that it makes all options possible, for better or worse, like it or not. This, of necessity, includes those possibilities that we find less desirable or even repugnant. However, because of the experience such negative circumstances afford, we also have the option to make better choices after having lived through them – something we might not understand until after going through those ordeals in the first place. Experience can be quite the teacher, even if its lessons are far from tolerable.

As another film that came out not long ago – “The Birth of a Nation” – aptly illustrates, sometimes we must endure conditions we find unacceptable to come to realize that they are indeed unacceptable. As that picture showed, nearly all of us today would find the concepts of slavery and inhuman brutality reprehensible. But can we truly say the same today when it comes to matters related to homophobia and bullying? Clearly we’ve made considerable progress in these areas, but there’s still room for improvement, as “Moonlight” pointedly shows. We can only hope that the light this film sheds on those subjects will help improve circumstances as we move forward.

Thankfully, even though conscious creation allows for the manifestation of the regrettable, it also just as readily enables the materialization of the positive, the enlightened and the innovative, qualities that help to promote wider acceptance and understanding of those conditions once looked upon as “normal” that subsequently are labeled deplorable. Chiron senses this throughout his upbringing; all he need do now is give himself permission to follow through on what he innately knows is possible.

Again, this is an area where “Moonlight” shines, providing viewers with an experience of the possible, an opportunity to potentially open closed minds. By depicting different options from what has typically been considered the norm, the film explores new possibilities, including both those in these particular subject areas and through the conscious creation process generally. That’s quite an accomplishment, and rarely is it portrayed as effectively as it is here.

In short, “Moonlight” is an important film, one well deserving of all the accolades it has received – and, one would hope, of the awards it’s worthy of winning. It provides a thought-provoking look at what it means to become who we’re destined to be while shaking up entrenched attitudes. In only his second feature-length film, writer-director Barry Jenkins has produced a masterful picture, one that nails its material in virtually every regard from start to finish. Its powerful and sensitive treatment of a touchy subject is handled skillfully, maximizing its impact through incisive writing, creative camera work and top-notch editing. But, above all, the film’s phenomenal ensemble cast (featuring many first-time performers) delivers superb performances across the board, particularly in its seamless depictions of Chiron and Kevin over time.

It’s hard not to come away from this film feeling supremely moved. But that shows the impact of the power of story, and that’s where prospects for change have an opportunity to take root in the minds of individuals and the collective consciousness. Let’s hope “Moonlight” can work its magic in reshaping the hearts and minds of those who would benefit from seeing things from a new perspective, one that ultimately works in the best interests of everyone.

Copyright © 2016, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.