Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Making Sense of A Tragic Narrative

"Thats the thing about pain it demands to be felt."-John Green

John Green, the popular young adult novelist, wrote this quote in his novel "The Fault in Our Stars",  which deals with young adults with cancer, and he is right. Sometimes nothing makes sense. Sometimes all we have is an emotional response, and emotions do not make logical sense. They demand to be felt, and who can blame us? When something tragic happens, we feel it. Feeling is all we have sometimes, and when the story is tragic, our feelings can be the first thing we feel.

If you read my stuff, you know I mostly write about film and fictional books. My job isn't to make sense of the real world. It's to make sense of the reflection of it. Fiction is a reflection of the real world, but it isn't the real world. When a tragic event happens, one that affects us but not directly, we need to make sense of it through a narrative. Of course, we can't know everything, even with the news covering it through hours and hours. So, in a way, a big event, tragic or just well, big, has to be processed like a story. Of course, the Boston Marathon Bombing is a tragedy. It is a tragedy that makes us use words I won't publish here. Our response to this event shouldn't be elegant. However, it's the job of the newspaper man or the creative type to try to give us a narrative response. Stories are our way of trying to digest something that really doesn't make sense to any sane human. We all know how the story is going to end, but it doesn't make it any better. It's going to be some extremist nut, ranting about one of two things: some kind of vendetta against America or nonsense about how he did this for some spiritual reason or both. However, the problem is, despite the end of the story being there, we can never make sense of this event. We will get a narrative one day, with details that will never be revealed, nor should they. That being said, how do we make sense of the senseless?

Well, the simple answer is, we can't. This isn't a movie or book. This is the real world. Only the insane person who did this, does this make sense to. His narrative for why this happened will be twisted, for sure, and make no sense to those of us trying to make sense of why. We might never know why. The only narratives that will make sense to us is the stories of those who ran towards the explosions, and the narratives of those who surrounded it. We know their stories are narratives that make sense, because like any good story, the core of those stories are raw emotion. That makes sense.

I don't claim to try to make sense of any of this. More than 100 people were injured and 3 died, including an 8 year old boy. It's horrible even to type these words. Sometimes the only story that makes sense is our emotions, not the actual story that happened. Not every narrative makes sense, and believe me, this one won't. After all these years, the narrative of 9/11 doesn't make complete sense. However, we can pick and choose the narrative we want from this event. Let the narrative be that good people can exist. There are no suspects yet, but I do hope this was one twisted dude and not some terrorist group. This will never be a good story, however, we can make it an emotional one. When I talk about stories, movies and books I like, I often say  that stories about people are the most important. Even if the story is a fantasy, the core still needs to be human. The only way we make sense of a tragic narrative, is to focus on the stories of people, and not the bad people. Our emotional response is the story we need. At the end of the day, lets let the proper people put together the emotionless story of information on how this happened. Yes, that story of information is important. However, our emotional story is the one that will stick with us.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Remembering Roger Ebert

 "The wonder of life and the resources of the imagination supply all the adventure you need."-Roger Ebert's review of "My Neighbor Totoro".

I think that quote describes Roger Ebert so well. He didn't only give me a review of a film, but often I would walk away from his reviews with new  ways to look at both film and life.  I'm a fan of a lot of things. Film directors, writers, and other creative types, but I think it was much more with Roger Ebert. I truly admired him. In fact, I once left a comment on Roger Ebert's blog and he responded to me. What a thrill! As I read tributes to him this morning, I see that it was not unusual for him to respond to his fans.

This makes the headline in the New York Times all the more true, "A Critic for the Common Man". That is true, in a lot of ways, because Roger Ebert wrote about the art form of the common man. Movies have meant a lot to me, and so have Roger Ebert. I have had a special relationship with both film criticism and film in general. I like a lot of film critics but there was something special about Roger Ebert's brand of film criticism. The way he wrote, I felt like I was talking with a friend, and not some cultural elite who was lecturing to me. I like the way that he loved movies the way they should be loved. He was emotional about them, he wasn't afraid to explain an independent film in simple terms to someone new to that wonderful world of art cinema, or explain to a snob why a dumb movie is worth their time, and sometimes entertainment is simply entertaining, and why that isn't a bad thing. He loved all sorts of films, and in that way, he was a friend to all sorts of people, and I felt like he was a friend of mine.  

I have to be honest. I have never had a relationship with a writer the way I have had with Roger Ebert. Sure, I've been a fan of many writers I've admired. However, there's something different about Roger Ebert. Maybe it was the way he wrote, but I also think through his writing, his reviews, his columns, books and TV shows, we got to know the man himself and quite honestly, he was a good one. Ebert was the kinda critic I want to be. A man who doesn't just show a love and knowledge of films in his work, but a love of knowledge of life and a love of knowledge. I admire him both as person, writer, journalist and critic. 

It wasn't just a film critic I read in the newspaper. It was the TV show I remember, watching "Siskel and Ebert" every weekend, growing up. When I became older, I started to read his reviews carefully, aspiring to write mine like his.  As "Game Of Thrones" author George R.R. Martin said this morning, Roger Ebert was a "a terrific writer" and I agree. He wasn't just a critic talking about movies, he was a writer, a real person, talking about film criticism. 

However, I also want to not just talk about Ebert the film critic. One of the great delights of Roger, was we got a sense through his writing, he was much more than his job. One of my favorite Ebert essays is in his "Great Movies" collection, on E.T., because it gave us a look at not just Ebert the film critic. It gave us a look at Ebert the man. Roger Ebert wrote this essay on E.T. as a letter to his grandchildren. He says thanks to his wife, he has step grand children, and went on to talk about how they reacted to watching E.T. for the first time. He also talked about his affection for them, and taking them to ride horses. Okay, maybe it sounds a bit sappy but that's one of the things I really loved about Ebert. We got a sense he was a friend, and he wrote to us like he was our friend, not just the snobby film critic sitting on a high perch, criticizing other people's work. He was a fan, he was passionate, he loved this art form, and he explained in simple terms, how art affects us. That's why Roger Ebert was so important. At the end of every episode of "Siekel and Ebert", they would say the balcony is closed. Well, I'm going to say, thanks to Roger Ebert, the balcony in our hearts and minds, will always be open.