Dec 28, 2009

The Messenger, Part Two

On Dec. 18, I reviewed The Messenger, a movie about two soldiers whose assignment is notifying the next of kin that the U.S. soldier in their family has been killed.

In response, Jeff M, a thoughtful and regular visitor, writes: “My God, who the hell would want to watch this film? No offense, Banjo, but some things...I don't know. It's right up there with Sophie’s Choice or Boys Don't Cry.

Jeff, I know what you mean, but where does one draw that line concerning serious art? At Dostoevsky? I completely understand a reluctance to seek out grim stuff, to pay admission to be depressed as well as enlightened. I've never put myself through Clockwork Orange along with a number of other books and movies, especially when there are more innards and sliced flesh on film than in medical schools.

Still, when I make those choices, I know I’m sacrificing something—maybe the new information and perspectives offered in The Messenger, maybe the elevation of human suffering to the status of tragedy. An audio recording of King Lear can make me shiver, but it’s a price I'm willing to pay once in awhile for witnessing the eloquent arrogance of social rank and senility and fatherhood as they are struck down into eloquent humility.

I remember Sophie's Choice as magnificent, if difficult—ditto the more recent The Road and Hurt Locker, and any number of other high quality but grim movies. Like you, however, I’ve consciously chosen to skip some. Don’t you think it’s got to be a personal choice?

The people who make me crazy are those who seem to get off on war while confining their reading and movies to Patriotism Made Simple by Moe Rawn and the Simpleton Brothers. Those people should be forced to see every minute of every convincing war movie—twice. Ditto for bigots and well-made movies about racism or sexism. Or am I just refusing to accept that bricks can’t think?

Jeff, I'm pretty sure that's not you signing up for Jingoism 101, so by all means skip this movie if you want to, need to. But I’m not sorry I saw and praised The Messenger; I think it added important fuel to my skepticism about American wars popping up like zits, here, there, and everywhere.

As we’ve heard so often since our war in Vietnam, the surviving veterans of most wars—and their loved ones—are wounded in myriad ways, from which the rest of us are shielded. Maybe the least I can do is put myself through two hours of forced enlightenment about an aspect of military life I've probably never considered. I don't have to endure such things every time, but sometimes, especially if someone I trust tells me how and why the book or movie is well-made.

So, as long as viewers have some of sense of what they’re getting into, I recommend, again, The Messenger as good film making.

More importantly, I repeat what I said in the December 18 review: most of Congress should see it—right after they volunteer their children or themselves or their spouses to be put in harm's way in one of our foreign ventures.

This should be a rule: if you vote for war, you go to war—or send your young offspring because they are more able warrior surrogates. I suppose that’s Utopian, though I’m not entirely sure why.

You might have heard something similar from Michael Moore in Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), but I promise I had the idea decades before seeing that good film. And of course, when Michael Moore is your ally, your argument is probably more than halfway down the tubes in mainstream America—not because it’s unsound but because it fails the Simpleton’s Red, White, and Blue test, which is entirely multiple choice. Experiences like The Messenger are essay tests, and they’ll be graded hard.

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Jeff M said...

All good points, Banjo. I hope you didn't take my comments the wrong way. My opinions tend to come out a bit strong. I agree with you that dark subject matter has a valuable and oftentimes cathartic value, and this film appears to offer that. Maybe it's my mood; I think I've overdosed on these types of films. Anyhow, enjoy the film. Hope your holiday was festive.

Banjo52 said...

Likewise to you, Jeff. You pose a nicely big question: how do I know when the large, dark issues are stretching me in a necessary and good way, as opposed to weighing me down purposelessly? Dec. 30 here, about the movie Up in the Air, touches on such stuff too.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Jeff comments left me wondering something that had not yet crossed my mind. I mean The Messenger certainly has intrigued me, and I figured we'd watch it when it is available on DVD. But yea, why would one watch such dark matter/dark subject. Hmmm. I've been reflecting on these types of movies/books I have experienced. I never watched Sophie's Choice or Life is Beautiful just for these reasons. But I both read and watched Johnny Got His Gun. And I have not regretted it once.

Maybe these subject matters have to be taken in small doses, spaced out so they don't consume you into a dark place you can't get out of.

I really like your comment on Michael Moore. As much as I love his points/arguments, I hate being aligned with him when I speak up.

I have so many movies to ask you about! You should have an open forum for questions/books/movie opinions!!!

Have a great New Year, even tho it is a few days off... By the way, I am reading The Anthologist. Have you read it? As soon as I read the first page, I wondered!

Jeff M said...

well, life is beautiful offers a perspective that is original and uplifting, something new concerning a subject that has been overdone. at the same time, it delves into the deep waters. sophie's choice...not so much; that film makes deer hunter look like Finding Nemo.

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, just read some blurbs on The Anthologist, and I'm VERY interested. Many thanks for the tip. Knowing me, I'll have a two-year internal dialogue about whether to do that first or Alice Munro's new book of stories, Too Much Happiness (which I already own).

I'd be glad to do an open forum on books/movies/poems/ideas--in fact, that's what Banjo52 tried to be at the beginning, but there was no response. Maybe I'm not asking the right questions?

I agree we need to parcel out our doses of elegant darkness. Otherwise, we become a bad imitation of some undergrad who just decided to major in English because continental literature is so deep. If you catch me doing that here, please call me on it. Jeff, you too.

I should leave Sophie's Choice alone--I only saw it once, when it was in the theaters. But I do remember being wowed, darkly, by its moral complexity. Notice, by the way, we're not even talking about the novel, only the movie
. . . .

Brenda's Arizona said...

Wow, Deer Hunter haunted me for nights. I was younger then, too, maybe too young for it. I was still a teenager & pretty impressionable. I don't think I ever dip my toe into Sophie's Choice.

Now you have me switching to Amazon to see what Alice Munro's book is! Thanks for the lead. I have Tracy Kidder's new book next on my list (Strength in what remains) - I have been addicted to his stuff since Soul of a New Machine.

So I gotta ask, have you ever seen "Zero Effect"? I'd love to hear/read your thoughts. And ton others...

Keep posting great ideas in the New Year, ok?

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