The bumper sticker goes like this: ‘I don’t have a solution but I admire the problem’.
I couldn’t help thinking, when I saw that plastered on the back of a car, that a percentage of American films (as well, to my understanding, some foreign and even local productions) fall into that category. They are films that explore problems, ideas and themes but sometimes lack in giving a substantial solution.
But there are a crop of films though that get nominated for awards that are not only ascetically competent and have an engrossing story and are wonderfully executed by the director, but also have a transcendent quality that goes beyond just exploring themes for theme’s sake.
Academy Award winner for Best Picture, Schindler’s List achieves this state movingly where, at the end, the hero Oscar Schindler is esteemed by the Jewish people that he saved from extermination at the hands of the Nazis. Humanity and life wins out in the heart of a man who lived in an environment of death and destruction.
So we come to the new millennium’s first Academy Award ceremony with American Beauty scooping eight nominations, the most of the year.
American Beauty shows Lester Burhnam (Kevin Spacey) as a man infatuated with his daughter’s cheerleader girlfriend and is indifferent to his work to the point of giving it up.
Lester’s wife, played by Annette Bening, is a perpetual positive thinker who struggles with her real feelings and fancies a real estate guru.
The couple indulge their fantasies and tear off the restraints of repression, consequently causing much pain.
The characters are seemingly searching for some sort of redemption and liberation away from the despair of their existence. Why else would they strive for something more to this life?
The Green Mile and The Insider show a country that believes in hope, accountability, and redemption, standing for truth, and have a moral fiber.
The Green Mile, based on a 1996 serialized novel by Stephen King, has much quirky Stephen King-type nuances and is the most intense and powerful of the two.
A Herculean, but child-like man, wrongly convicted of murder, is a source of redemptive miracles for the staff at death row.
Paul Edgecombe (played by Tom Hanks) becomes convinced of the man’s innocence, and although experiences life giving power, also encounters punishment for letting an innocent man receive the death penalty.
The film is a reminder that all fall short of the mark and has various Christian symbols.
The Insider is an engrossing and intelligent true story about tobacco industry whistle blower Jeffrey Wigand (played with intense reserve by Russell Crowe).
The premise revolves around Wigand and journalist Lowell Bergman’s pursuit of exposing lies and uplifting the truth, something inspirational, subtly powerful and admirable, when put to screen.
The final two nominated films, The Cider House Rules and The Sixth Sense, are miles apart thematically.
The former is about Homer Wells, brought up in an orphanage under the guidance of Doctor Larch who performs illegal abortions and teaches Homer medical operations.
At a ripe age he leaves the orphanage and discovers life, a woman, and disappointment and eventually realizes his destiny in life.
Based on John Irving’s novel, the film failed to move me, but lovingly captures the milieu on camera and is literate, intelligent and has endearing sentiments of a boy encountering manhood. Hollywood still appreciates good solid art, thrown in with a dose of controversial liberal thought centered on individual rights and all presented with sophistication.
The Sixth Sense
The final film, The Sixth Sense, is the weakest of the contenders, but a box office smash hit. Not as graphic as The Exorcist it is nevertheless a creepy and airy supernatural thriller that has what could be demonic undertones.
I’m not sure why the Academy picked this film as a contender for best picture. But I get the impression it is the Ghost of 2000, which was also a box office smash in 1990, chosen because of its popularity. Variety is the spice of life when it comes to selecting best picture films.
This year the five Oscar contenders for best picture have their individual nuances that can provoke a variety of emotions. There is a depth of character in The Green Mile and The Insider. A thoughtful and provocative piece is The Cider House Rules and clever and captivating is the direction of supernatural activity in The Sixth Sense.
In the probable winner, American Beauty, there is an originality and boldness.
No matter how artistically brilliant they are, in which filmmakers are endowed with human ingenuity placed there by the Creator, films show a fallen world, but can also be embellished with great truths, like in The Green Mile, because the image of God remains in humanity, including in Hollywood.
[abridged from previously published work, which appeared in New Zealand Baptist, in 2000]