I Take It Back (Everything Is Illuminated, Grizzly Man, March of the Penguins, Broken Flowers)

It’s not the time to go to the movies right now. For one thing, with the exception of Everything Is Illuminated (coming out 9/16), the worthy releases of this month are limited to the film-festival circuit; Toronto, Venice, and Telluride all crowd into this period. As for Illuminated, surprisingly, first-time director Liev Schreiber favors cute over the historical contextualization that formed the backbone of Jonathan Safran Foer’s excellent novel about an American writer tracing his Ukranian-Jewish roots. Why I still recommend the film, however, is its final scene, the most affecting depiction of the legacy of US immigration that I have ever seen.

Just: Don’t see March of the Penguins. That this Splenda-sweet anthropomorphizing piece of nuclear-family propaganda was the highest-grossing indie film of the summer while the brilliant Grizzly Man, which examines the very dangers of anthropomorphizing, lurked mostly below the radar blows my mind. And the more I think on Broken Flowers, the crosser it makes me. When I first saw it, I surrendered some to its icy appeal, but still felt vaguely unmoved. A month or two later, I can’t believe I fell even a little bit for another aggrandizement of a man drowning in his own self-entitlement, even if he is Bill Murray and even if he does possess an excellent soundtrack. Such unresolved self-pity lurking in that nest of quiet (male) sadness. What kind of a man (a poorly complected one, at that) breaks it off with Jessica Lange, Sharon Stone, Tilda Swinton and Julie Delpy, and mostly loafs about in a gorgeously appointed home while his best friend (the estimable Jeffrey Wright) hops around doing his emotional work for him? Not one I feel very sorry for, at any rate. Not one I care to watch for two hours, certainly.

Better to save your dollars for disaster relief. And to listen to music. Music! This is the exact moment when we need a soundtrack rather than a visual. We need a medium that enables us to better access our emotions rather than a vehicle for dissociation. God knows I love hiding out at the movies, but this is a time to strike forward, not to shy from our exasperation and disbelief and grief.

Go listen to Nina Simone sing “Trouble in Mind.” Like all of Nina’s best work, it swoops down to the darkest places we ever live and then back up again, reminding us that despair’s never a permanent residence:

Trouble in mind
I’m blue
But I won’t be blue always
‘Cause the sun’s gonna shine
In my backdoor some day

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy