Monday, January 30, 2012

Movies ... And Life

It's that time of year again, when the Golden Globes are handed out and the Oscar nominations are announced. Each year about this time, I make an honest attempt not to get too excited. But, really, I jest. I lost almost all interest in the who-will-win-what media circus decades ago. With one caveat: I reserve the right to get mildly annoyed when a film or actor that I especially liked does not get get due notice from the PTB crew - for which non-acronym, read Powers That Be. Having written that, I don't know who the PTB crew might be. Members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, I think. I don't know who the individuals  are, and don't much care. None has ever invited me to lunch, or for a late-afternoon drink. Or sought my opinion on anything.

But enough already with the silliness. This blog post is not really about movies. But there is one film I am really interested in. That one is The Iron Lady. But it is less the film than the subject matter that interests me. For anyone who hasn't been paying attention, TIL (almost an acronym) is a biopic about Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Great Britain (not just England) from 1979 to 1990. The film did not get uniformly good reviews. It was not nominated for Best Film, although Meryl Streep is nominated for Best Actress. I hope she wins. It's her best performance in years. While watching her, I had to keep reminding myself that I was watching an actress play a role. Streep, who too frequently overuses technical gestures and tics in her roles, vanishes into this one.

The major criticism of the film is that it focuses too much on Thatcher in decline, sliding into dementia, speaking and arguing with her dead husband, Denis. (And here, yet another brilliant performance by the inimitable Jim Broadbent.) I thought the film-makers took the perfrect approach to the subject. They humanised Thatcher instead of lionising her. But there are scenes enough of Thatcher at her peak to supply the full quotient of lionisation for any and all of her fans. You don't have to like or admire Thatcher to enjoy the film.

One of the main points the film makes was well-described and expressed a few days ago in a column in The Ottawa Citizen  by Janice Kennedy:

The Iron Lady deserves both recognition and audiences. It is a powerful human portrait which, perhaps surprisingly, is also profoundly moving. And it speaks to all of us - no matter what our age, nationality or political impulse - even when we don't want to hear the message.

The conceit of the film is retrospective, an aged Thatcher revisiting life moments both grand and mundane through eyes that have dimmed. The elderly Thatcher, in the early grips of dementia, is vague and distracted, though still capable of grace and rising to an occasion. Streep is so convincing in this she makes you want to weep.

It is in that contrast that the enduring impact of the film lies. No matter who you are, it says, aging is a process of destruction. This thematic thread that winds its way through the movie serves as both momento mori and call for compassion. Critics who have faulted the film for its portrayal of political history are missing the point. This is a film about humanity.

Who was it said that "Old age is a shipwreck"? A quick Google search tells me that it was Charles de Gaulle, who lived  almost to age 80; Margaret Thatcher is (today) 86. While we are on the subject, I will celebrate - the verb is carefully chosen - my 73rd birthday in August. I am becoming more and more aware of what may lie ahead.

Yesterday, my partner and I spent a few hours at the National Gallery here in Ottawa. One of the permanent displays there is the Rideau Street Convent Chapel, an actual chapel reconstructed in the Gallery. Even for a non-believer - meaning me - a visit to the chapel can be moving. When I entered - Suzanne had gone on ahead - an elderly lady and someone I took to be her daughter were just leaving. I smiled at them both and the older lady caught my eye. Her face lit up, she said hello, and she took my hand. I asked her how she was, we smiled at each other, exchanged a few more words, and then she went on her way, leaning on the arm of her companion. She obviously thought I was someone she knew, or had known once. But I didn't know her; I had never seen her before. The incident, which lasted only seconds, took me back to the film.

Janice Kennedy again:

Most of us will grow old, and some of us, through no fault of our own, will be altered beyond recognition. The miraculous thing is, that doesn't change our value or who we have been. As the film intimates, real failure occurs when others lose sight of the person, the whole person, behind the dimmed eyes.

It's a good thought to hold on to. And worth revisiting from time to time.


David Cole said...

eh, Streep, Shreep . . . Glenn Close gives a much better performance in Albert Nobbs

Thomas Rendell Curran said...

Ah, Cole, Schmole; admit it David, you likely haven't seen "The Iron Lady". And, if I can believe your earlier comment to me, you won't see it. Not appropriate to criticise something you haven't even seen, mate!

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