The Oscars were on tonight. I didn’t watch them. In the past 12 years, I’ve only sat through them twice, both with a group of people. I really only enjoy it when I’m with a room full of people, hopefully a few snarky comedians to liven up the room and remind us all that, well, it’s just an awards show. I never remember who won the previous year, so how important could it be?
I had my women’s group tonight. We just started reading the book of James. By coincidence or design, this evening’s discussion was about this section of James, Chapter 1.
When down-and-outers get a break, cheer! And when the arrogant rich are brought down to size, cheer! Prosperity is as short-lived as a wildflower, so don’t ever count on it. You know that as soon as the sun rises, pouring down its scorching heat, the flower withers. Its petals wilt and, before you know it, that beautiful face is a barren stem. Well, that’s a picture of the “prosperous life.” At the very moment everyone is looking on in admiration, it fades away to nothing.
Each one of the women in my group are over forty, married with no children, and in the arts. We’ve sacrificed things in pursuit of our art, and we’ve paid a price. So the idea of enjoying our lowered status isn’t appealing. There’s no inherent virtue in being poor, nor is vice inherent to success. But to quote one of my favorite movies, Millions, “The money makes it hard to see what’s what.”
Sometimes I’d like the chance to see what’s what with some money in my purse. But…
I liked Boyhood very much. It lacked a classic dramatic structure and tension, and it was about a half hour too long. But it was miraculous to watch a real person grow up in front of our eyes. Birdman, on the other hand, was well structured and had a very palpable tension. Almost too much tension. It was very difficult to watch, and I disliked just about everyone in the movie. Even though I was rooting for the Hero, Riggan, it was hard to watch what he was doing and where he was going. His hellbent pursuit to be taken seriously struck too close to home. It reminded me of how self-absorbed and myopic actors and artists can be. And that would be me. Especially me.
SPOILER ALERT. If you haven’t seen the movie and plan to, don’t read further.
I was squirming all through the movie until its dramatic and revelatory end. I have no idea what Inarritu’s belief system is. Inarritu’s film is clearly in the magic realism camp. You can’t read too much into the director’s intent and deem its ending a spiritual or religious moment — at least, you can’t say that this is what the director intended, unless he were to say as much. However, the best art asks deep questions of ourselves and of the universe. We may call it God or the Universe or spirituality or meaning. But those movies are the ones that I enjoy the most. It was easy for me to interpret the ending in my own religious language. Not fame, not even being taken seriously, will fill that longing. Ultimately it is a leap into the void, into the sky, into God. And if someone is there who has the eyes to see it, you give them a reason to believe it, too.
The ending reminded me of a play I directed last year: “7 Stories” by Morris Panych. The suicidal hero sits on the ledge of a building, contemplating jumping. Seven sets of characters interact with him, completely absorbed in their own lives as they pursue sex, money, status, the in-crowd, even religiosity. It isn’t until he meets a 100-year old woman that someone actually listens to him. She tells hm to jump. “If you want to do it you should do it. You might go down. But you might also go up.” He jumps into the dark, into the void, and flies to the opposite building, where a bunch of Magritte figures ask him questions about the play’s meaning. They analyze it to death, parsing out what it all means, completely missing the miracle that has taken place. He flies back to the original building, to find that the old woman is gone. The author doesn’t say “dead,” and her nursemaid even looks up into the sky. So I made the choice as a director that she, too, had flown away. The Hero, finally at peace, stands out on the ledge, remembering the miracle that happened and waiting for the wind to come take him again.
But for a moment … for a brief … moment … I didn’t know (I couldn’t’ fly). And the wind carried me up and took me along for a ride. And I forgot. I forgot my own story. And I flew. Flew on the wings of someone else’s.
I don’t know what this has to do with Lent. Maybe it will all make sense at Day 40. Or Week 40, or 40 years from now. It’s all a mystery. A leap into the dark, trusting that voice that tells us we are made for more. There is Deep Magic, and in some world we don’t yet know, we’re meant to fly.