Saturday, October 23, 2010

Spirit-Filled Day (and "Hereafter" review)

Today was a spirit-filled day, which I really needed after a week that has been a mixed bag. I didn't exactly up my game on the job search by applying to my target of at least 10 jobs. On Monday, at the Oregon Employment office, I had workshop on writing an effective resume. It was awesome and the instructor had a kind of sense of humour and personality that reminded me of Frances McDormand's character in the film Laurel Canyon (one of my favourite films of the past decade). I learned a lot and had to rewrite my resume. I received two referrals from the Employment office and sent in my resume. Both places pay the salary that I'm looking for. Hope I get an interview request with either or both of them in the next week.

Wednesday was the day of the Presidential visit, which took up a better part of my day. That left Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday to focus on applying to jobs, but my friend had a paper due and wasted two of my days, and caused me to change my schedule on Friday just so that his paper could be written. Also on Thursday, I was bothered by my roommate's whiny dog all morning. He keeps the Golden Retriever / Labrador Retriever puppy in a dog crate while he's at work. He said that I could go into his room if the puppy is whining for company. So, I finally did and was hit with the most putrid smell. Yep. The dog went to the bathroom and made his room smell like a cess pool. I wasn't taking that puppy out of his cage. When I got ready to leave the house, I saw that the roommate had left the light on everywhere and the front door unlocked! Since I've moved in, I have never gotten a good vibe from this anti-social roommate. There is just something very strange about him. Once, I asked him if his clothes were in the dryer, because I needed to use it. He said no, so I dumped the clothes on the floor and put my clothes in the dryer. Later, all the clothes on the floor were gone. The homeowner hadn't come by, so obviously, it was this roommate's clothes. Sometimes, I get the impression that he's not entirely there "mentally." He consumes massive quantities of Vodka and last week had two different houseguests stay over (both of his friends are what I call "alternative types"--into black clothing, noserings, tattoos, etc).

On Friday, I learned from the homeowner that a room is available to rent. Turns out, the roommate had smoked marijuana in the house, against the rules of the homeowner. I was relieved by this bit of news. I really hope the next roommate will be more compatable. Its always a risk, because the current one hasn't bothered my stuff (so far as I know). However, I don't want an anti-social roommate who doesn't seem to be able to communicate. He keeps dishes stacked up in the sink. He leaves food out all night. He allowed friends to stay overnight for four nights last week. Yeah, its not my house, but I'm still territorial...especially when its people who aren't those that would naturally be part of my social circle. I'm glad that the homeowner shares my staunch anti-drug mentality. It was difficult to find a roommate living scenario that is not "420-friendly" in the city of Portland! Hopefully, the next roommate will be a guy in his 30s who is politically active and spiritually minded. Someone who would have good philosophical discussions occasionally.

With such a mixed week, I needed to end it on good vibes. The Oregon Convention Center had a Body Mind Spirit Expo. This happens about twice a year, but I've never made it to the other ones before. This time, I felt compelled to go. For $12, I was able to see seven different lectures. That's a pretty good price. I learned a lot and took good notes. Some of the lecture topics I attended were: "Waves of Change Are Upon Us", "Charting Your Life", "Divine Intuition: Raising Your Vibration", "Achieving a State of Being" (the speaker for this one was too philosophical and repetitive that I counted 6 people walking out, out of 16 attendees), "Awakening to Spirit", "Manifest Quickly and Easily", and "Illusion as Reality." It was interesting that most of the attendees were Baby Boomers and women. There were a few young people, though. Other than the lectures, there were booths set up offering all kinds of "New Age" materials / crafts / books, and even psychic tables (for palm readings, Tarot readings, etc). I came for the lectures and enjoyed most of them. I had woken up late and missed the two earliest ones that I wanted to attend. But seven lectures of 50 minutes each went pretty quickly.

In a few of the lectures, the speaker had everyone in the session meditate. I received some interesting information that way. For instance, the name Denise came up again. At least a half decade ago, I had come across the name Denise in a meditation session. I don't know any women named Denise, so I don't know if this is the name of the woman I'm meant to marry or if this will be someone who plays a significant role in my life. Since this name came up in the same meditation session as Haiti, I'm going to freak out if I get offered the Haiti job and a lady named Denise is to be my supervisor. That would indicate a sign that I should take the job, though. We'll see. I'm definitely keeping the name "Denise" in my mind as I go about my life.

After the last session finished at 6:50 p.m., I had enough time to walk to the nearest movie theater at Lloyd Center and finally catch the film I had wanted to see on Friday: Hereafter. This is one of the most anticipated films of the fall season. In fact, after Howl and Hereafter, I can't think of any more films left this year that I want to see. That might be it. I recently learned that Spielberg's Lincoln movie had been postponed, so I have no idea if it has even been filmed yet.

Clint Eastwood, as a director, has been on a roll in the past dozen years. He has made movies based on popular books and novels (Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, Mystic River, Invictus), a pair of World War II movies (Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima), and odd little pictures such as Changeling, Gran Torino, and Million Dollar Baby. Since he's getting up there in age (80 years young), its not surprising that he would be focusing on spirituality. That's where Hereafter comes in.

In one review for the weekly newspaper, The Portland Mercury, one can see the derision of Portland's young urban hipster's mindset regarding any presence of spirituality in a movie. Here's what the reviewer Ned Lannamann wrote:
"Let's pretend that when you die, you go to a blurry, floaty, black-and-white spirit world, surrounded by your loved ones, who apologize for everything mean they ever did to you. Let's pretend that's true. If that's the case, then Hereafter is actually a pretty good movie. Because that's the central problem with Hereafter. It takes a huuuuuge [SIC] leap of faith to swallow its central premise--the kind of leap of faith that requires you to, I don't know, wear crystals or read Mitch Albom. Once you're on board, though, the movie is surprisingly sober and well told."
Really? That's how he interpreted it?

The film actually does not deal with the afterlife. The "blurry, black-and-white spirit world" was meant to convey how a psychic medium (played by Matt Damon) visualizes the souls that have passed over whenever he touches someone and picks up their energies. Its a flash of insight for him. Those brief scenes was not meant to convey what the afterlife actually looks like. That this film critic could not understand that proves that he's far too secular for his own good.

The movie covers three different storylines. The first focuses on a French couple on vacation in Indonesia when the Christmas 2004 tsunami struck, leaving death and destruction in its wake. The next story centers on a psychic medium in San Francisco who gave up a lucrative career helping grieving people find peace in communication with passed over loved ones to be a warehouse worker. The third storyline features twin boys with an alcoholic and drug-addicted mother.
If you want to see this movie or plan to, I suggest that you read no further, because I WILL REVEAL PLOT POINTS which will lessen the enjoyment of the film for you. While the flaws in the film are its melancholy tone, slow moving story, and underlit scenes, there are plenty of gems sprinkled throughout for those with the patience to stick with the story. Below, I write about why this film is brilliant, despite its flaws. But what I write will SPOIL THE MOVIE for you if you read it before seeing the movie. Read at your own peril.

Of the three storylines, my favourite was the French couple. Cecile de France (who is actually Belgian) plays a broadcast journalist for a French television station, on vacation with her producer boyfriend to Indonesia. He wants to sleep in on the morning after Christmas, while she goes out to buy souvenirs for his children. The scene of the tsunami is frightening (though obviously CGI). There's no way to outrun such an event. She's caught up in it and has a Near Death Experience. When she's back in France, it becomes obvious that she's distracted. Her boyfriend suggests that she take some time off to write a book, which she proposes to a publisher that she intends to write a tell-all biography on French President Francois Mitterand, perhaps the most compelling French political leader since Charles de Gaulle. However, her experience in Indonesia has her seeking out information online. When she asks her boyfriend what he thinks happens when they die, he gives the standard atheist line. Knowing that he's not interested in what she experienced in the tsunami, she goes to a hospice in Switzerland and meets a lady who has extensive documents relating to the afterlife experiences.

When she turns in a partially written book about the afterlife, her publishers are shocked and angry with her "bait and switch." She finds herself blacklisted due to her interest in spiritual topics, which is considered the kind of "woo woo" stuff no rational person dares speak of in public. This is the most profound statement in the entire film: that any person of some level of fame (particularly journalists, whose job it is to investigate compelling stories) can be marginalized from society at large for displaying an interest in spiritual topics. This is very true. In our secular age, people with a spiritual worldview are marginalized or considered "flaky" and often made fun of or dismissed with derision.

She completes her book, though, and finds a publisher in America, a land where books of this kind find an audience or willing publishers. I definitely loved all the scenes with Cecile de France. Of course, I also have a major thing for French (Belgian) women. Women speaking French are so damn sexy to me, and Cecile de France is definitely sexy. J'aime les femmes francaises! Elles sont les plus sexy dames du monde!

The storyline that least interested me was the one involving the twin boys in London. They are low-class chaps with a dysfunctional mother. The older twin (by twelve minutes) is the talker and the responsible one. He runs an errand, finds himself in the middle of some streetwise bullies, and manages to break out of their grip and into the path of an oncoming truck. He ends up dead and his twin is left grieving. One cool scene shows exactly how the spirit world sometimes works in our favour. In the London Underground, the boy's hat is knocked of his head and gets kicked around by all the people rushing through the tunnels of the tube. Once he grabs his hat, puts it back on his head, he misses out on boarding his subway train. Seconds later, the train is blown up in London's version of 9/11 (if I remember correctly, it happened on July 7th, though I can't remember which year). He was saved from boarding the subway of death because of his chasing after his hat, which had belonged to his brother.

Because his mother is emotionally unable to care for the boy after the death of her son, he finds himself in foster care. His foster parents don't understand him. He keeps to himself and runs off to consult with psychics to communicate with his brother, only to be disappointed by the charlatans he meets.

The last major storyline shows the sad, lonely life of a psychic medium. He meets a beautiful young lady (played by Bryce Dallas Howard, daughter of director Ron Howard) in an Italian cooking class. They seem to hit it off and go to his apartment to practice their culinary skills. An ill-timed phone call from his brother regarding his special gift piques the young lady's curiosity and against his better judgment, he explains his psychic ability. She begs him for a reading, which he is hesitant to do, explaining that sometimes its not good to learn too much about someone. He knows from personal experience that his talent makes a romantic relationship virtually impossible and he likes this lady too much to lose her. However, she talks him into it and when he hesitates to reveal more, she keeps asking him to share what he saw, saying that she can handle it. When he tells her about the source of her biggest pain, she realizes that it was too much, that he has learned something about her that she did not want anyone to know. She tries to backtrack and make an agreement to pretend that what he learned about her past did not happen, but any intelligent filmgoer can guess what eventually happens: she no longer shows up at the cooking class, where they were partnered up.

Movies with differing storylines usually tie them up in the end (Babel, Playing By Heart, Valentine's Day), and this one is no different. A London Book Expo serves as the catalyst to bring the three individuals into one another's path. What I loved about the resolution is that the psychic medium and the French broadcast journalist and published author find a connection because of the commonality between their experiences. Its a hopeful ending, especially for a guy like me, who still holds out hope that I will find a lady who is deeply interested in metaphysics / spirituality like I am. Granted, its only a movie, but I'm the eternal optimist. I would love to meet a native French speaking lady who loves to discuss spirituality. That is my dream.

Overall, the movie was brilliant in what it conveys. However, if I could make some changes to improve the film, I would have used better lighting. Some parts of the film were visually dark, which might have been intentional, but I didn't think it should've been. I would have also made scenes move quicker. Finally, the overall vibe was melancholy, which will likely prevent this movie from finding the larger audience it deserves. When covering a subject such as death, there should be efforts made to keep it buoyant. Ghost did this brilliantly through the comedic efforts of Whoopi Goldberg. Instead, this carries the same kind of melancholy that The Sixth Sense possessed, but it lacks the kind of cool twist that would make audiences rave about it to friends. I don't see this movie becoming a word-of-mouth sensation. Its probably a forgone conclusion that Paranormal Activity 2 is going to blast Hereafter into the hereafter. What does that say about us? We want our otherworldly movies to give us frightening chills or to make us laugh. Whatever you decide, don't make it sad and depressing. Even if it is profound and worth seeing. We are a country obsessed with bouncy happy, after all, rather than moody melancholy. Give this one a chance, though. Its worth the emotional investment.

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