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Posts Tagged ‘Meaning of Life’

Today I watched Million Dollar Baby and 310 to Yuma. Per usual, I over analyzed these and looked at them much more philosophically than should be done. First, I am starting to believe that in life we are searching for this abstract idea of meaning. It could also probably be called purpose. We are constantly looking to feel needed and valuable. The problem that makes life so tragic is the fact that we are constantly struggling between being honest with ourselves and being accepted by the broader society. The need to feel valued can seemingly only come from other people, so it’s hard to be honest with yourself and still be accepted by society. In turn, we thus change our personal belief’s to attain such value and importance in our life. Therein lies the tragedy. Dishonesty leads to societal acceptance, but personal displeasure. Honesty leads to personal pleasure and being socially ostracized.

Watching Million Dollar Baby reminded me a great deal of The Power of One. If you have neither read nor watched either, I suggest moving past these next paragraphs as I am going to discuss the plots and themes of these. In Million Dollar Baby, Hillary Swank is constantly trying to shed her trailer park past by becoming a champion boxer. In the hospital bed, she talks about ‘seeing the world’ and people chanting her name, essentially being the center of the universe. She is unable to continue living, because she will never again achieve such levels of social acceptance and thus asks Clint Eastwood to pull the plug. This highlights the familial struggle that she has been experiencing her entire life. She comes from an unstable and incredibly sad background. Upon buying her mother a house, she is berated, because it might cause her mother to lose her welfare and Medicaid benefits. It’s tragic, because she is constantly looking for that personal acceptance within her own family. She just wants her family to care and support her and they never do. Even when she is essentially dying in the hospital they try and get her to sign over her money to her mother’s name. Clearly a ploy to take everything as they have spent the last 6 days on vacation before even coming to see her.

Clint Eastwood is undergoing the same battle. He writes his daughter weekly to constantly receive ‘Return to Sender’ on every letter ever sent. He keeps them all in a shoe box in his cupboard and can never seem to understand why they keep coming back. He is afraid to take on Hillary Swank as a boxer, because, I think, that she reminds him of his daughter. He thus calls her by a Gaelic name (Mo Cuishle) which means ‘My Darling, My Blood’ clearly a reference to the daughter that doesn’t accept him. Hillary Swank even refers to him as a father figure. We see their relationship come to a close as he tells her what Mo Cuishle means. Pulls the plug on her respirator. Administers a lethal dose of adrenaline and leaves the room. It’s like they have both fulfilled their destiny in this moment. Hillary Swank receives the familial acceptance from Clint Eastwood by having someone who actually cares for her and Clint Eastwood finally has that daughter he has never been able to establish a relationship with. It’s tragic, because we see Hillary constantly struggling to be accepted by her family but finally being forced to be honest and call her mom a ‘lazy piece of trailer trash.’

As for The Power of One I made the less than academic connection over the boxing theme. It’s been several years since I read it, so I’m purely going off of instinct here. Peekay is the only English speaker at his Afrikaner school and is ridiculed by the other boys. He is urinated one, humiliated and all-together degraded by those older than himself, specifically one boy known as The Judge. We see Peekay become a boxing champion. We essentially get the run around the entire book until the very end when Peekay randomly meets The Judge in a bar many years later. The only reason that he knows that it is The Judge, is because of a distinctive tattoo on his arm. He quickly destroys The Judge with his boxing skills, carves his initials into his arm and the story ends. The entire story of school, boxing and everything is nothing more than filler for this conflict that began when Peekay was not accepted by the other boys at school. He could be a scholar and instead searches for nothing more in live than revenge on the one that prevented him from being socially accepted in grade school.

310 to Yuma again reminded me of this dichotomy between personal honesty and societal acceptance, and also reminded me of The Departed and Kingdom of Heaven. We see Christian Bale who is the epitome of personal honesty, or so we think. He plays by the books, he shuns acceptance for making sure that he is an honest farmer who plays be the rules. Later we find out that this honesty is really compensation for his inability to be accepted by his own family. A tense moment with Russell Crowe brings this out. Nearly being choked he tells Crowe how he lost his foot in the Civil War. Instead of losing it in battle while doing something noble it is instead shot off by a friendly solider while they are retreating. He asks how he can face his son with such a story. We then come to understand that his entire struggle with honesty and acceptance. He is trying to teach his sons to be honest and true, because he can’t do so with them. He feels that they won’t accept them as a father if he tells them the truth. He thus has to take this ‘job’ to take Crowe to the 310 train in hopes of redeeming his virility and showing his eldest son that he is manly.

Crowe on the other hand is a man who is blatantly honest, but constantly searching for acceptance. He is an anomaly in the world of criminals. In the first scene we see him drawing a free-hand picture of a falcon as one of his posse comes up to tell him that it is time to rob the stagecoach. He has manners, he cites passages from the Bible. He murders, steals, kills, but does so for seemingly true and good reasons. Throughout the movie I develop a sort of sympathy for him. He kills, but he kills those who have done bad. For example, the marshall who slaughtered dozens of Apache women and children. We find out later in the movie that he was left by his mother. She sat him at a bench at the train station and told him to read the Bible while she got the tickets. 3 days later he finished the Bible and his mother had not yet returned. It’s almost as though his entire life is spent searching for acceptance by someone who is honest and true like himself. He surrounds himself with these lackeys that are devastatingly loyal. He shoots his own men and they still follow him, drive their horses to exhaustion to rescue him and never question his authority or dominion. That being said, he hates them. He goes along with Bale, because he is true. He has numerous opportunities to kill him, but never does. Even till the end, he has his opportunity to escape but instead gives Bale the opportunity to gain acceptance with his son and thus with his entire family. As his posse covers Bale with bullets he can do nothing behind his cell but scream ‘No.’ He tried to buy Bale he tried to make him be dishonest, but Bale doesn’t bite. It’s almost as though Crowe has become a criminal to search for someone who is honest. He tries to bring out the worst in people in hopes that someone will refuse all such advances. Bale finally does only, tragically, to be immediately shot to the ground. Instead of then joining his minions for more plundering Crowe does the unthinkable. He takes the gun his right man throws him and immediately shoots them all. Hands the gun to the Marshall and walks into the cell. He had searched for acceptance by an honest man and finally found it.

The Departed is very similar to 310 in my mind. We have the same struggle. The characters who strive to be accepted are tragically flawed, in terms of reproduction. Matt Damon and Jack Nicholson both struggle to bear male heirs. The story is subliminally about their inability to produce children, because of their infertility. This seemingly, in my mind, leads to their personal dishonesty. They must place a facade over everything that they do in hopes of society not noticing and being accepted. On the other side of things you have Mark Wahlberg, who is hilariously honest. He loses his job, because he refuses to fall in line.

Finally we have Kingdom of Heaven, Bailyn does the unthinkable by giving up Jerusalem. But he does so to be true to himself and true to the cause. He seemingly loses everything that society and convention would tell him to keep.

I know this is completely convoluted and confusing, but I suppose what it comes down to is that we are constantly being pressed down upon by these forces of self and society. We can either do what we wish, or we can do what society wishes us to do. There are times where we may not know what we want, and I’ll throw those instances out. But in all other cases we have to be true to ourselves. When we live to please others to be accepted we lose a piece of ourself. This isn’t to say that you can’t care for other people, but rather that we have to take other people for who they are. Societal acceptance doesn’t come through changing our persona, it comes by being deeply individual. When we fail to do this we lose our identity and are unable to relate with people.

Life is that struggle between self-honesty and societal acceptance. It is that struggle to run free in nature as we would wish, but live within the conventions of a ordered and structured polis.

D.

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