Anatomy of a Scene – The Letter

“For what it’s worth, it’s never too late, or in my case too early, to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same. There are no rules to this thing. You can make the best or worst of it, and I hope you make the best of it. I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”

-The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Sometimes, you can watch an entire movie and not feel moved by it. Whether it’s a stirring of your emotions or being introspective about your feelings, few movies will touch the viewer personally. Luckily, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is an exception to the rule, especially when it comes to the scene where the main character, Benjamin Button, writes a letter to his daughter, whom he barely knew in life.
With her mother on her death bed, the daughter finally opens and retrieves many letters from a father whom she barely knew and is startled to have a keepsake from someone who was rarely in her life.

Benjamin Button has a unique condition where instead of getting older like he the rest of us as he goes through life, the opposite happens to him and he gets younger and younger allowing him to experience life backwards. Still, despite this inconvenience he can live a full life and that is what this movie scene so special because he encourages his daughter to do the same. While he is not around to see her have her own adventures, he wants the best for her and wants to her to “live a life that she’s proud of.”

When we first are introduced to this scene, we see that Benjamin’s daughter realizes that he went to India and many other places years ago based on the kind of parchment that his letters are written on. There are many letters addressed to her from the time she was two years old and onward when he was not around to be with her. Despite the sadness and disappointed associated with that, she is relieved that he was writing to her and thought of her even when he was far away. For him to think of her while writing ‘the letter’ in such faraway places show that despite his curious condition, he loved her dearly and wanted to express that even after he passed away.

This movie scene is brilliant because it shows Benjamin travelling around India while narrating to his daughter that he wants her to ‘be whoever you want to be’ whether that’s a traveler or a janitor or a toll booth manager. You can make the ‘best or the worst of it’ as he states to her depending on your perspective on life, but he wants her to make the ‘best of it’ as he did. A father imparting this important message on to his daughter that it’s okay to ‘start over’ again in life is important for her to hear but also for the audience to understand.

If you find that you are not ‘living a life that you’re proud of’, then there is nothing wrong with changing it in order to finally be proud of. While he did a lot of travelling, there is still the humdrum of daily life involved such as cleaning your clothes, talking with the locals, and even drinking from a water hose. “There are no rules to this thing.” Sometimes, we tend to think of life as a narrow path when really there are going to be numerous zigs or zags, and when you become an adult, you have to make the rules for how you want to live, what is important to you, and what to care about.

“I hope you see things that startle you, I hope you feel things that you’ve never felt before…” This part of the scene is brilliant in showing the beauty of Benjamin’s travels and how he would sleep, brush his teeth, and move around by motorbike through beautiful mountain passes and rivers. Benjamin wanted his daughter to experience the world and for her to enjoy what it had to offer in her own life. Part of doing just that is adapting to the places you visit and to seek out the adventures yourself in order to make the most of it.

“I hope you meet people with a different point of view…” Benjamin encourages his daughter also to get to know other people, whether from another city or another country, and how it’s necessary to be open to them and to be kind. The locals help Benjamin fix his motorbike as he drives through their village on one of his journeys.
“I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” Benjamin’s last words to his daughter ask of her to be strong in not being afraid to change your life or decide that you want to live it a different way than before. The mother imparts at the end of the scene that “he had been gone a long time…”

Unfortunately, this scene shows both the beauty and tragedy of life in that sometimes, we can’t be there for the people we love but are with them in spirit. Benjamin could not be with his daughter in life but he wished that he had been there to wish her a happy birthday, to kiss her goodnight, to take her to her first day of school, to teach her to play piano, to chase away boys, and to be her Father. “Nothing he ever did would replace that.” Even after all the adventures that Benjamin had, the most important role he ever had was being her father and he wanted to make sure she knew that by leaving her with his diary.

Even in his absence, this scene shows us the power of a father’s love for his daughter and how he wanted the best for her and to live a life that would yield happiness and fulfillment for her. In one minute, this scene in ‘The Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ has more of an emotional impact than many movies do in more than two hours. Breaking down this narrative and the beautiful cinematography and filmmaking of travelling at its most challenging yet most rewarding was quite an achievement by the film’s director and crew. Not only would this movie scene have an impact on Benjamin’s daughter by also on the rest of us watching in the movie theater or at home. If you have a chance, watch this scene to appreciate the scenery, the message, and the power of love between a father and a daughter. A powerful movie scene worth a watch and a couple of re-watches as well.

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National Museum of Anthropology (Mexico)

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Mexico City, Mexico

Cholula and Puebla

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Camera: iPhone 8

Locations: Cholula de Rivadavia, Puebla, Mexico; Puebla de Zaragoza, Puebla, Mexico

Hay Vida En Las Calles

During my visit to Salento, Colombia, a beautiful town located in the foothills below the Andes Mountains and adjacent to the famous Cocora Valley, I picked up on a slogan that I found very endearing and memorable. “Hay vida en las calles” was posted on an advertisement on one of the vendors there who was dishing out ice cream, snacks, and other goodies. “Hay vida en las calles” translates to the English language as “There is life in the streets” and I found that to be a very positive sign and one that gets people out of their homes and into the parks, squares, and plazas where the basis of all community life is formed. While life in the streets cannot be found everywhere, I found this prevalent attitude consistent in many towns and cities during my travels in Latin America.

The emphasis on communal spaces and public gathering places is something I really admire about Latin culture and I find it to be a healthy feature of any society, which has strong communities and families. Being able to leave your homes every now and then to walk five minutes away to be in a public park or a town square should be natural and available to more and more of us.

As is well known in psychology and sociology, Human beings are social creatures and we want to be around other people even after we have had some alone time. In order to do so, responsible local, state, and national governments should provide that to their peoples in order to build more trusting and kind societies. In societies where people are isolated, lonely, and without opportunities to meet people and build new friendships, problems related to anxiety, depression, and even violence are likely to rise.

In countries such as the United States and other Western countries, statistics related to anxiety, depression, and loneliness are rising and part of the reason I think for the rise in these issues is related to not being able to gather and socialize in a public place. The atomization related to suburban living, the lack of public transportation options, and the decline of shopping centers all help to contribute to this rise in loneliness. I mention the closing of shopping malls because due to technology giants like Amazon, small businesses and large companies alike are closing their doors causing people to order anything from food to clothes to Amazon Echo from their homes.

While shopping malls and outlet stores aren’t an optimal way to build a sense of community, they still brought people together and were a place to hang out. The question remains regarding how will we replace these stores, strip malls, and outlet centers if they all go out of business? A revitalization of public places from small towns to big cities will not just be a prudent step forward but help societies deal with rising anxiety and loneliness rates. There should be life in the streets.

Whose responsibility should it be to encourage this kind of ‘life in the streets’? I believe it’s the local government combined with local businesses who can really make it work. Also, local community groups and organizations can play a big role in making sure everybody feels welcome and to promote activities, discussion groups, and issues in the community that need to be resolved. The average citizen living in the town or city can contribute to by hosting ‘block parties’ or contributing food or drinks. We ask our taxes to pay for roads, schools, and parks, but why not also a community gathering place, indoors or outdoors, where people can be social, discuss issues, and make new friends.

Without investing in our citizens by providing a ‘public square’, we are really selling ourselves short and it could hurt the fabric of our communities, towns, and cities in the long run. Without a way for people to interact and socialize with each other for free and without needing to buy anything, society as a whole can really benefit. It may sound like a ‘utopian’ idea to some but I think it makes a lot of sense in terms of the potential benefits to people’s mental health.

When I was in Salento, Colombia, for example, there were numerous food vendors, there was live music, and people were chatting with each other on benches. Children were playing in a nearby playground and the air was fresh and clean. The noise of the cars and the buses was off in the distance and it was a sea of calm where there were plentiful trees, flowers, and you could hear the birds chirping. People need that kind of space to gather, talk, listen to music, eat food, and watch their children play peacefully.

In my travels through Latin America in the past few years, I have seen this in multiple towns and cities where there is an emphasis on using the public squares for the public’s benefit. While this may not be a universal thing across the entire region, it is a priority here and one that I really appreciate coming from a culture where these gatherings are in decline. The good news should be that with greater effort and investment, we can bring the public spaces back again in the United States and elsewhere.

Further automation and loss of jobs in the retail and manufacturing sector is a tragedy and one worth acknowledging. My hope is that the loss of these retail and commercial spaces can be put to some good use and even lead to different kinds of jobs to take root, ones that are more social and that benefit people more, especially young children and the elderly. Being able to revitalize certain neighborhoods with greener public spacers where people can gather, eat, play, talk, and even dance would help curb the loneliness epidemic that we are seeing in Western societies. If there is life in the streets, people will show up and they will be better for it.

Part of the beauty of travel is seeing how other cultures value family and community life and make it a high priority. I believe that you can take these positive values from other cultures and place them within your own. It must involve buy-in though from the people themselves and they have to feel that it was the next step forward in improving their community. With the rise of automation and the closing of large shopping centers, we may be at the point in time where we can turn these empty buildings and useless parking lots into real gathering places in the future.

Without social interaction and a sense of community, people will suffer as a result mentally. This has been shown in many studies and in many surveys. I think it is part of who we are as social animals and being isolated in our homes and in our cars for 90% of the day will not make us healthier. For what I saw in Salento, Colombia a few years ago and what I have seen in other towns in Latin America, placing a high value on social life within these communities will make people feel a sense of togetherness and cohesion. A greater emphasis on community gatherings and social spaces would create a large ripple effect that would drastically improve the greater society, the country you’re in, and the world.

Tlatelolco and Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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Camera: iPhone 8

Location: Mexico City, Mexico

Zócalo

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Location: Mexico City, Mexico

Bosque de Chapultepec

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CameraiPhone 8

Location: Mexico City, Mexico