Tuesday, August 29, 2006


Or: Does the Exception Prove the Rule?

We were talking only yesterday if you remember, Bush, about movies and movie stars, about the predominance of the male action star at the box office, and about the paucity of outstanding roles for women. By coincidence, I slipped a new arrival from Netflix into the DVD player last night: "Proof". (Thanks to those of our readers, by the way, who had recently recommended it!) Proof that strong roles for women do exist, and that to grab the imagination and the compassion of its viewers, a movie does not need the swagger of the macho hero.

The only heroics here are internal ones. The battle is against the inner demons, and the outcome is still uncertain at the end. The "victory", if there is one, is left in doubt: we are not offered the comfortable reassurance that the demons will never return. Indeed, we are quite sure they will, and that our heroine, while emerging momentarily into the light, will likely continue in her struggle for the rest of her life.

Still, it's compelling drama and Gwyneth Paltrow does an extraordinary job in the leading role. It's not an easy one. Her character is allowed to be only fleetingly appealing, and rarely even particularly attractive. Depressed, self-doubting to a fault, angry and resentful, for the most part as devoid of energy as she is of physical attraction, she slouches around the house in confusion and despair and repels every attempt to get close to her. Her greatest fear is that she is too much like her father--a father whose genius she worships and whose madness she dreads, a father who is alternately tender, demanding and domineering toward a daughter who is at once lovingly dutiful and angrily rebellious.

It's the archetypal dad, in other words, and the archetypal daughter. His death, which should come as a release to her, only serves to increase her guilt and anguish as she flails about, emotionally and spiritually, in the attempt to free herself from his giant shadow and acknowledge that her own genius rivals his. She sees it even as the cause of his death, and herself as his murderer.

These are the kind of demons that we all must fight with, Bush, in order to flourish in our individual humanity. The reason that this daughter's conflict is so utterly compelling and convincing is that she is doing the work that all of us must do to liberate ourselves. Freedom, the word you bandy about so liberally (if you'll excuse my language, Bush!) is only in small part about the restrictions imposed on us by others. The inner demons, perhaps because they remain so stubbornly evasive and invisible, are more powerful than any of your Saddams. Freedom is what we are obliged to struggle for within ourselves. No one can give it to us, not even the powerful military of the United States of America. We must each find it in and for ourselves.

And when we fail to do so, especially the most powerful amongst us, the results inevitably manifest themselves in the outer world in the form of tyranny, oppression and war.


David said...

The shadow of the father seems to be a theme our Pres shares w/ this film. Though in his case the child has certainly outdone the parent.

PK said...

Good blog Peter. Thank you...