The other night the somewhat negatively reviewed film The Great Gatsby played on TV. I was expecting cheese and conspicuous consumption. I got that, but watching the hip hopped up version still reminded me of the dignity and quality of the original F. Scott Fitzgerald text. I’ll include a lingering example here.
This is the scene where Nick Carraway catches Gatsby brooding alone on his deck, after he has been exposed for his criminal activities by Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan. Carraway is young, played by Tobey Maguire, and still has enough moral clarity to be affected by the transgressions of all the characters. But he still finds himself returning to Gatsby. Partly because the fierce devotion with which Gatsby has worked for the prestige it takes to get a girl like Daisy; he met her when he was a poor soldier and imprinted an ideal of love upon her. Most readers may laugh at Daisy, the way folks today tweet mean on Kim Kardashian. But Nick notices that sort of sleight is alien to Gatsby.
He looks at him and tells him that he is better than the whole damn bunch of them. He’s a criminal, but his ideals are true. Nick reflects, “that was the only compliment I ever paid him.”
There’s that old world that must be given credit. In the etiquette of the life-loving Fitzgerald, you pay a compliment rarely, and when you mean it. The compliment means something. And oh boy, so does this story.
The major million dollar picture Gravity, the favorite to win Best Director at the Oscars, is a movie that is marked by a simplicity, despite its innovations. This simplicity allows many of us to project our own emotions into the deeply felt poetry presented by the filmmakers (namely Sandra Bullock and Alfonso Cuaron).
But one aspect of the story is as well designed as any other drama this year. This is the subplot of Dr. Ryan Stone’s trauma. It is teased out by the William Holdenish George Clooney as they space walk to their next savior station. He asks her if there was somone from home looking up at her. She’s been very short the whole time. Distant. She tells him that she lost a daughter. She was driving home from her doctor’s job when she heard of the accident. Ever since then all she does when she doesn’t work is drive. Now, she has volunteered her services in deep space.
The season of the skies up there is decidedly winter. The cold blue of Bullock’s mournful face conveys a palpable melancholy. Things move slower in space. She may have gone there expecting time to stand still some more. She won’t have to stop and pay for gas up in space. Driving around in circles and circles, repeating in her head the routine of driving, in hopes that the phone might ring and the news about her daughter will be different.
This behavior is highlighted numerous times in an expeditionary study of Trauma compiled by Cathy Caruth in “Trauma: Explorations in Memory.” One passage describes our lovely doctor’s dilemma well.
“The traumatized mind holds on to that moment, preventing it from slipping back into its proper chronological place in the past, and relives it over and over again in the compulsive musings of the day and the seething dreams of night. The moment becomes a season, the event becomes a condition.”
Only a revelation, a ghost, or a miracle can shake Dr. Ryan out of this wintry discontent. She could be on a disintegrating space station, floating in the middle of the ocean, or she has maybe locked herself inside a clean bedroom.
But a vision does come late in the film when the ghost of George Clooney comes to her and gives her the instructions on dislodging her pod and using low pressure jets to drop her to earth. It’s at this time that she, not a woman of prayer, prays for Clooney’s ghost to say hi to her dead daughter. She tells him to tell her daughter that she found her red shoe. Thus she has finally put the event of the death into a narrative in the proper chronology of her life, as Caruth calls it.
She lands on earth safely. Or has she just had a mental breakthrough? Both events have happened, in a movie that sounds to us from the soulful depths.
Out on the Osage, a gift to progressives, but a struggle ahead.
The weekend before a federal judge deemed it fit for gay marriage to happen here in Oklahoma I and hundreds of others of Oklahomans went to the movie theaters to catch that rare glimpse of ourselves, in the film August: Osage County.
What we saw was hardly flattering. A family stuck in a dry, musty house on a desolate plain. Lots of overacting. The birds were flying away. Automobiles fleeing family pasts in lonely trails of gravel road dust. Mean people saying hateful things to each other.
The family was a wreck. Not like ours, right? Or very like it.
Three daughters of a ruling matriarch had trouble with their love lives. Meanness had been their mother’s inheritance to the daughers and her mother’s to her before that. In this house, windowed by yellow cigarette stained blinds, the matriarch clings tight to customs that don’t really matter anymore, for example she makes the three men at post funeral meal wear their suit jackets at the dinner table.
A similar sense of outdatedness shrouds our attitudes about gay marriage . There are some progressive pockets, especially where I type in Oklahoma City. Each year a gay pride parade celebrates on Classen Boulevard: local businesses, sundry stragglers, the famed Hi Lo bar’s float and even mayoral candidates. It is an effortless mingling of neighbors with the gay and lesbian community and afternoon sun.
And yesterday a federal judge in Tulsa deemed unconstitutional a state amendment that barred gay marriage . An appeal is likely, if not guaranteed. If the ruling stands gay and lesbian couples will have equal protection under the law. In the past year 17 states have authorized same sex marriages. In high schools where I’ve taught there are more kids feeling comfortable to come out than when I graduated in 2003. Still, with posturing from the moral majority it didn’t seem like the law would follow suit here. It took 9 years for this particular case to reach the verdict. As the hearts of a people change, so may the policy.
But underneath, out in the geographic and psychological reaches, feelings of deep faith cling to the same centuries old stubborn meanness that it took to pacify the Native Americans, raise a farm or cattle stock in arid atmosphere, to settle this difficult patch of land, tame it, and cough on its dust (I type while ingesting a Mucinex).
The believers of the Right Union take to the comments section of news stories that ilicited ecstatic responses from most of the young people on my Facebook and Twitter. The believers want something solid and that thing is scripture. They write:
“ Much of why Christ established His Church both anciently and today is so we might not be ‘tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive’ … Those who advocate homosexual behavior are not satisfied with civil unions, because what they are after is to establish a false moral equivalency in the minds of the public.”
A deep faith that gay marriage just isn’t right helps in part fortify them from the confusions brought on by mass media and marketing (Macklemore and Glee on their kids’ TV maybe? try to reconcile these guys to the Wolf Of Wall Street or Jersey Shore machismo). The weird new thing reflected in confusing message posts is our new character struggling to figure itself out.
A growing tolerance must also reckon with remains of the debliitating strains of a masculinity cult which tells or whispesr to the young men that hard drinking, mainlining football stats, waxing misogyny w/ friends and all these sorts of things make for a man. Man has a feminine side (that might even help him get along better with woman), but he best get rid of that side. Pronto. It could be gay.
The struggle will in actuality be between the people who just want to let people be people and those who can’t let go of the past’s prejudices, odd phantoms they don’t really know anymore. It’s a basic, crippling meanness that August: Osage County acknowledges as our curse, this internal flailing about that causes us to harm each other over and over.
They want us to believe the hard winds here are winds of progress (and can even be harnessed as profitable wind energy!). But a deep grain of stale paranoia and anger drives governor Mary Fallin’s “majority” who voted for the gay marriage ban in 2004, the democratic voters she fondly speaks of in her written response to the ruling.
All that anger was good for whipping this place into shape, I suppose. But it won’t sustain us.