‘The Whale’ – Film Review and Analysis

“‘The Whale’, directed by director Darren Aronofsky shows us how low someone can go when things go wrong in life but also how our lowest lows can also bring out the best of us when it is most important.”

2022 may be over but I am still thinking about the most emotionally impactful movie of the past year, which deserves its own review and analysis. Likely to be nominated for a few Academy Awards at the least an Oscar for Best Actor nomination for Brendan Fraser, ‘The Whale’ is a powerful film about a man’s desire to try to right past wrongs in some way before it is too late. ‘The Whale’, directed by director Darren Aronofsky shows us how low someone can go when things go wrong in life but also how our lowest lows can also bring out the best of us when it is most important.

Aronofsky’s filmography from ‘Requiem for a Dream’ to ‘The Wrestler’ to ‘Black Swan’ to ‘The Foundation’ to now ‘The Whale’ all deal with flawed characters looking to right past wrongs or to find redemption in the most meaningful way(s) before they are past the point of no return. Aronofsky so brilliantly can capture psychological drama and tension in each sense in his movies that by the end, you’re so emotionally affected by it all that it can be hard to wrap your head around what you just watched. As a director, he is excellent at painting a picture of a person or people in distress and how while they may have had good intentions, they are almost too far gone to seek redemption or a new start.

Different from Aronofsky’s past films, ‘The Whale’ is adapted from a play of the same name dating back to 2012 so the screenplay that is written and the way the film is set up is exactly how a play would be seen on the big screen. There are few characters, the plot does not get too murky or complicated, and the setting remains the same largely throughout the whole film.

Film critics today may dismiss this film as lacking scale and scope in its ambition, but I was drawn to how beautifully it portrays what could be real people living real lives. ‘The Whale’ may be a film and fiction but it likely portrays real situations and real tragedies that some people unfortunately come to pass in their life. The film deals with multiple real world issues affecting people from obesity to alcoholism to lost loves to broken up families that most people in life can see how that can throw someone’s life off a cliff and make it almost impossible to recover.

‘The Whale’, as the title makes clear is about a severely obese man named Charlie who weighs around 600 pounds and suffers from multiple health issues because of his weight issue. He is estranged from his teenage daughter, separated from his alcoholic wife, and unable to turn the video screen as an online English professor because of his weight condition that may affect how his students see him. His only interaction is with his friend, Liz, who is also a nurse who comes to take care of Charlie especially with his multiple health issues causing him to be near death and at risk of heart failure.

Charlie has become a tragic figure in that he only has Liz left in his life after suffering the loss of the man who he fell in love with. Because of that love, he sacrificed his marriage with his previous wife and his relationship with his daughter for. After the affair he had with his student, Alan, who is also the brother of Liz, for whom she was adopted by a family and her father who was a pastor in the New Life Church. Liz was able to escape the church’s cultish tendencies but Alan’s possible guilt from being disowned by the Church and perhaps his family as well for his homosexuality and relationship with Charlie caused him to end his own life.

This terrible series of events punished Charlie and his eating condition after the death of Alan exacerbated his obesity and caused him major depression and an inability to form relationships with others beyond his caretaker and friend, Liz. Charlie is not looking for any pardoning of ‘sins’ from God or the Church that disowned Alan but rather the sole forgiveness of his daughter for whom he last saw when she was eight years old. Ellie is not a child anymore but is a rebellious and sullen teenager who misses her father and lashes out at her mother, who deals with her problems by downing a bottle of liquor, rather than raising her daughter to be better. Charlie is no saint in the matter in that he did commit adultery with Alan and led him to neglect his daughter, Ellie, and to push his wife away as well.

He never made amends for having caused them both grief and pain with his impulsive decision. His love for Alan eclipsed his love for his daughter, which he struggles in the film to get back. When the New Life Church’s doctrine and his family’s discontent with Alan’s sexuality, Alan’s suicide caused Charlie to spiral further to eat uncontrollably and to negate his relationships even more by becoming a total recluse who cannot even leave the house because of his body weight and inability to walk or drive a car.

‘The Whale’ also highlights how Charlie is not looking for pity from others or for forgiveness. He knows how much his life has gotten out of hand, but he is hoping to do ‘one thing in his life’ right before it’s too late for him. He believes that while his daughter acts out and despises what he has done, that there is still hope for her and that can she achieve her potential but to more importantly to ‘be a good person.’ It may be too late for Charlie to turn it around in life much to Liz’s, his wife’s, and even Ellie’s disappointment, but Charlie knows that redemption is possible for each of them and that even if he is not there, he will try to leave money for his daughter to have a future, or to tell his wife that he is regretful for him leaving them for his affair, and that he apologizes to Liz for what he has done to himself with the loss of her adopted brother that has strained their friendship in the aftermath.

Charlie does not want to be saved by God or religion or from himself but he wants to know that his life through the birth of his daughter is one thing that he got right in life and that while he wasn’t there for her before when she needed him, he can try to make amends before he leaves the world, and to encourage her to be better than he was, to be better off in life, and to be kind to others. He may have lost hope for himself, but he has never lost hope for his daughter.

Similar to how Charlie encourages his English students to be honest with their written essays, he tries to be honest with Ellie in why he did what he did, how he could have been a better husband to his wife, Mary, and how he let Liz down after the tragic death of Alan. Not everyone can be this honest, but Charlie has nothing left to lose, nothing much to gain, and with not a lot of life ahead of him except imminent death due to his body’s condition.

Despite all the concurring factors, Charlie is trying to regain his humanity and his family back as much as he can recoup after it had been lost even if he has become ‘The Whale’. While he may be misunderstood and loathed like the whale in the book Moby Dick by Herman Melville, he is not beyond redeeming himself in the eyes of others and providing some closure for himself in a life that had gone so far astray yet for which he had also been able to give something out of love back to the world to live on in the form of his daughter, Ellie.  

Movie Recommendations – Volume V

“Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again.”

Colder weather and shorter daylight hours mean it’s premium movie watching season again. Whether it is in the movie theater or at your home theater, this time of the year is best not just for Christmas movies but for watching new releases in general. Between the streaming services, new theater movies, or even documentaries, there are a lot of excellent movies coming out to close out 2022. I recently saw four movies that I would recommend to others with three of them being watched at home and one in the theaters. Even if some of these movies are not in theaters, I would recommend checking them out through Apple TV+ in this case for a short-term subscription.

  1. The Fablemans

A semi-biographical film about one of the greatest filmmakers of the 20th and perhaps 21st century, ‘The Fablemans’ is an intricate tale of a genius who discovers his calling slowly but surely through his own ingenuity, his family’s encouragement, and with a little bit of luck. Steven Spielberg may not be named as the main character, but this is his life story told through his eyes and what it was like being a Jewish kid growing up in New Jersey, Arizona, and later California in the post-World War II era as his parents struggle to provide for him and his two sisters.

While Spielberg has this innate talent for filmmaking, he wasn’t always set on doing it for a living and struggled with his own doubts. His parents, while supportive, did not always see where his dream could go and were distracted by the issues in their own marriage that caused a divorce to occur. On top of that, having to move for his father’s work in the dawning of the computer age to communities out west not as friendly to American Jews, Spielberg’s ‘The Fabelmans’ covers the ugliness of antisemitism rearing its head and how Spielberg as a teenager was forced to confront it and the bullies who continue these vile tropes.

While not exactly a feel-good story, it is an excellent semi-biographical tale on how The Fablemans as well as The Spielbergs made his dream work and were crucial to the man who would become the most famous director in the world. It is an immensely personal movie with both its tragic and triumphant moments. It is a story that I believe a lot of us can relate to these days on how to overcome setbacks and trials in the pursuit of a life’s goal or dream.

2. Causeway

Not all wounds of war are physical. If I had to sum up the movie, ‘Causeway’ starring Jennifer Lawrence and directed by Lila Neugebauer, it would highlight how post-traumatic stress disorder highlights those wounds that are mental but brought on by physical trauma. Jennifer Lawrence plays the role of Lynsey, an American Army Corps of Engineers specialist who suffers a traumatic brain injury from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that causes her not just physical pain but PTSD as well. Her memory suffers, her eye and hand coordination, and even her ability to form complete sentences is affected. It is a long road to recovery but luckily, she meets people along the way including a home health aide who cares for her upon her return to the States doing backbreaking work to give Lynsey the chance to get her mental and physical faculties together.

Even after the physical recovery seems to be going well, Lynsey suffers from the PTSD that the explosion caused and the horrific memories of seeing her fellow soldiers die in front of her eyes. While the home health aide and physical therapy helps, as a returned soldier, all she wants to do is get back to the front to continue the work she was doing in Afghanistan. She sees that people including her own mother, who was neglectful to her as a child, while she cares about Lynsey, has moved on without her and doesn’t understand quite what she’s been through. Lynsey finds a job cleaning rich people’s pools in New Orleans where she’s from but doesn’t see it as worthy of her skills she acquired while on active duty in Afghanistan. Lynsey has an older brother as well who is away and out of her life due to his involvement in drugs, so she does not have him around either as a steadying influence.

The one person she does relate to is a man named James who has been through his own trauma involving a car accident that left him with an amputated leg. They’ve both seen more than they would care to in life and they are able to bond with each other despite the difficulties of their past. In a world where both feel increasingly isolated and distant, the bond they share as friends may sustain them for the future and keep them from turning to despair. ‘Causeway’ is a great film that really shows you the reality of what it can be like to return to home from war and the mental and physical scars a soldier can take with him or her that never fully heal.

3. Emancipation

There have been multiple movies about the Civil War and about Slavery, but ‘Emancipation’ is an excellent recent film starring Will Smith as an escaping slave in Louisiana yearning to be free and reunite with his still enslaved family. Antoine Fuqua’s directing is on point in this one with sweeping views of civil war battlefields, old plantations, and muddy swamps with a unique choice of filming ‘Emancipation’ in black and white with red being the only other color represented usually by a character’s blood being spilt. This film does not sugarcoat anything and is based on true events and the real-life story of an escaped slave of Gordon or ‘Whipped Peter’ who was whipped repeatedly before escaping from a Louisiana plantation after killing two of the slave drivers before running towards where Lincoln’s army was fighting around Baton Rouge.

‘Emancipation’ does not hesitate to show brutality on screen as well as the violence of a Civil War battle where freed slaves would fight to liberate others from their enslavement. Some viewers may be turned off by the sheer violence of the film, but I thought that it was a rather accurate portrayal of the cruelty of slave owners, the terrible conditions that they were forced to do labor in, as well as the dogs, snakes, alligators, and muddy swamps that an escaped slave would have to go through to reach the Union Army. Many slaves like Peter who were able to escape were not treated that much better than the Union Army besides being free although they had no choice usually but to fight for the Union to free others and to hope to see their families again if they were able to liberate other plantations.

I would recommend this film due to Smith’s performance, the excellent cinematography, as well as the historically accurate nature of Peter’s experience in escaping from slavery, preventing himself from being captured again and fighting with other African Americans in the Union Army to end the horrors of slavery once and for all.

4, The Banshees of Inisherin

It is not every day where you’re able to watch a comedy and a tragedy take place in the same movie but ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ succeeds on both accounts. Led by an excellent cast including Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson, Barry Keoghan, and Kerry Condon, the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of mainland Ireland is made up of a real bunch of characters who live out a life of repetition, tomfoolery, and drinking, which is a bit of community unifier. Set against the backdrop of the real Irish Civil War of 1922-1923, most of the Inisherin population is ignorant of what happens on the mainland and choose to tend to farm, to shop, and to drink, often excessively, as part of their daily routines.

One of the main characters, Colm Doherty (played by Brendan Gleeson), is fed up with a life in Inisherin that would revolve around just that and as he gets older, wishes to be remembered for his music and his song lyrics rather than getting drunk each day. That is the premise of the falling out he has with drinking buddy and friend, Padraic, (played by Colin Farrell), and while Padraic is nice, he is not someone Colm wishes to hang out with him again even though they are bound to run into each other.

The friendship was so strong and close that one day when it goes away, Padraic refuses to give up on Colm even though he tires of never getting a straight answer out of him. The refusal to lose out on a friend in such a small community, which conflicts with his desire to remain a ‘nice’ guy in the community causes Padraic as well as his sister, Siobhan, a lot of consternation and disappointment leading Padraic to undertake drastic and even ruthless measures to get his friend, Colm, back.

‘The Banshees of Inisherin’ while a fictional movie taking place in a fictional island is one of the best films of 2022 and is well worth a watch. It will make you laugh out loud, hold a tear back or two, and think of a time where you had a hard time letting go whether it was of a former friend or even a family member due to some personal grievance or a difference that came up. The film ponders some philosophical questions and does not belittle the audience with simplistic answers. It is an excellent tragicomedy and one worth seeing especially for Mr. Farrell and Mrs. Condon’s performances.

‘Triple Frontier’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again.”

Heist movies in Hollywood are a dime a dozen these days and can be quite predictable as well as not very engaging in terms of the characters and their backstories. ‘Triple Frontier’, a film released in early 2019 by Netflix takes the genre and makes it fresh again. The film explains the background of the characters, their individual motivations for conducting the heist, and the twists and turns along with a few surprises that happen along the way that will make the audience feel like it’s worth watching until the very end.

Not only is the film shot well with great cinematography, pacing, and direction so you know what is always going on even with the quick-paced action, it’s an intelligent heist movie, which is well thought out and involves a greater mission that the characters have despite their own personal motivations. The scope of ‘Triple Frontier’ or ‘Tres Fronteiras’ in Spanish is unique in that the film is set in the tri-border region of Colombia, Peru, and Brazil so it is an excellent way for the various sets to highlight this unique region of the world. From tree-covered jungles to rocky highlands to snowy mountain tops, the initial heist phase of the movie is bolstered by the 2nd half’s battle against not just external enemies but also by geographic factors.

The heart of the ‘Triple Frontier’ film is the story of the protagonists themselves. Each of them from different backgrounds but united by their special forces’ experiences, which bind them together as brothers. While the story does not get into their past experiences together, the film does a good job selling how close the bond is between the five of them is and how much they still care for each other. Civilian life has treated each of the five men differently but what they hold in common is their desire to improve their lives and go back to doing what they do best. Each of them is financially struggling to get by whether it is by dealing with a costly divorce, or by beating a misdemeanor drug charge, or by needing to fight in mixed martial arts to make more money, or by making dozens of motivational speeches to current soldiers to make ends meet.

The leader of the group, Santiago ‘Pope’ Garcia, is not so much as motivated by the money but rather to capture a notorious drug lord and leader of a prominent cartel in the ‘Triple Frontier’ who has been able to evade Pope for years as well as his Colombian counterparts. Pope has a hard time trusting the locals he is meant to led and needs a group of soldiers as well as his friends to ‘watch his six’ and help deliver Lorea for him. Pope has a local informant, Yovanna, helping him locate Lorea’s whereabouts and he just needs a solid team behind him to lead the raid as well as the heist but who better than his four ex-special forces colleagues who he knows can get the job done.

As with most things regarding a heist, it takes expert planning, a reconnaissance mission, as well as expert timing to make sure that things don’t go sideways when it comes time to exfiltration. After hearing from Yovanna that ‘the house is the safe’, and Lorea hides his money not in offshore banking accounts but in his fortress in the Amazonian jungle, Pope has the intelligence he needs to move forward with the heist. While each of the men have their own personal motivations to go on the heist with Pope, they are unified at first by their innate need for the large sums of money that can make them set for life and never have to worry about bills, MMA fights, or tedious motivational speeches ever again.

While each of Pope’s men question the ability for the heist to go smoothly, they feel like they owe it to each other to get it done especially each of them have a set of skills including one being a pilot (Francisco ‘Catfish’ Morales), one being a leader of the squad (Tom ‘Redfly’ Davis), a reconnaissance guy (William ‘Ironhead’ Miller), and the last being a stealth expert able to enact unarmed takedowns, (Ben ‘Benny’ Miller). Without each of his compatriots, Pope knows he cannot get the job done. With the help of Lorea’s money, Pope knows he can get Yovanna, his informant, and her brother out of the region safely without compromising their lives in the process.

While viewers would consider each of the men ‘greedy’ and ‘selfish’, the film makes their decision much more complex than that. They each know that his Lorea and his men pose a danger to the region and that they have a responsibility to look out for one another as brothers given the bonds, they formed with each other as previously active servicemembers. However, seeing as each of these five men have never experienced what it is to have $1 million at their disposal let alone tens or hundreds of millions, the film excellently portrays what it’s like when you finally stumble upon a smorgasbord of money never seen before and how that kind of greed can overwhelm someone, even the leader of the entire heist squad.

Money, like anything in life, when it’s too much with you or weighing you down, can cause things to go haywire when its impact is fully felt. Without spoiling the film for those readers who have not seen it, it’s not just the heist that could go wrong but also how to get the money back to themselves or their families after risking everything in the process. You can also carry so much physical money before you have too much where it starts to drag you down or also others with you, which could also put them in harm’s way if you are not careful. Each of the five men are very skilled in what they do, are loyal to each other, yet are fallible like the rest of us, and how they deal with their own greed, jealously, ego(s), and adversity in seeing the heist through carries the money to be one of the best of 2019, and a film to revisit for multiple viewings.

‘Triple Frontier’ is better than your average heist film for multiple reasons but most of all because it’s a very human film on how to overcome your own fears, doubts, shortcomings, to make sure your friend or brothers makes it back alive. The men are not good or bad men per say but are flawed in that they have given a lot to their country and the world, and now look to get what they desire in return, even if it may end up costing them dearly. The movie is not ‘black or white’ in terms of morality like other heist movies but rather shows the ‘grays’ in how people make decisions not just based on ‘self-interest’ but in a desire to be useful to the group and to put their skills to use.  

While it would be easy to say that ‘greed’ is a central theme that the film is based around, I would argue that the central theme is more about confronting our own nature and how to deal with murky aspects of right and wrong, and how that while money makes the world go around, that does not substitute for the guy or girl next to you who will fight with you, and even die for you. There are some things that money cannot buy and the film exemplifies that in its squad of five men, who while money is their motivation, they quickly learn that it is also a weight that will drag you down if you let it, and is no substitute to the man next to you, whose life is worth more than all the money you can carry, who is impossible to replace, and for which is truly worth fighting for and dying for, if necessary.

‘Up In The Air’ – Film Review and Analysis

“The choices he has made haven’t caught up to him yet, but he is on the path he has chosen that while unorthodox to most leaves him satisfied and content with who he is.”

Ryan Bingham has chosen a different life path than most people he knows. Instead of staying in his hometown, reveling in the glories past of high school and the diner down the road, he wanted to leave his roots and his family for his true passion in life: being up in the air and striving for excellence as a motivational speaker. The choices he has made haven’t caught up to him yet, but he is on the path he has chosen that while unorthodox to most leaves him satisfied and content with who he is.

Bingham (played by George Clooney) is at a crossroads in middle age where he has forgone the responsibilities that are normally achieved by most people his age with a house and a picket fence, being married, and maybe having children. He has forgone all that for an industry on the rise sadly at the time the film is set in and for being out on the road and up in the air for 250+ days of the year. He advocates for a life in motion because if he is not moving, he is not actually living.

His work like his constant travel is an unorthodox industry where he works as a human resources consultant traveling both domestically and internationally to do the dirty work of firing or ‘letting go’ employees in person and providing them with transition packet(s) that the company that’s firing them is leaving them with to help them in the ‘transition’ period. It is a rough job that due to the 2008-2009 global recession has made his HR consultancy firm as needed as ever. The one industry at the time that is gaining jobs rather than losing jobs, Ryan finds himself at risk of having his life of work travel outsources to advancements in video technology (about ten years before Zoom and Skype became mainstream).

While Ryan Bingham is not at risk of getting laid off like so many other working Americans during the period of the Great Recession, the worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, Bingham is at risk of losing his life of travel on the road due to firing people via telecommunications video instead. To make matters worse, his boss Craig Gregory (Jason Bateman) is tasking him with having a new hire out of Yale University, Natalie Keener (Anna Kendrick) shadow his in-person firings for a few months as the company, CTC, makes the transition to virtual consulting instead of letting those employees go in-person from now on.

That is not the only change that threatens to upend Ryan’s life choice as he has met a charming, attractive woman who has the same lifestyle as him and appears to see life as he does with less commitments and more choice. Alex Goran (Vera Farmiga) is the constantly traveling business woman for whom Ryan may have finally met his match. While they started out as a casual fling, Ryan begins to develop feelings for her as he ponders his uncertain future of life on the road as well as the fact that once he achieves his life goal of ten million airline miles accumulated may not have much to strive for.

Ryan and Natalie may not show it at first but the firings and the emotional weight of being responsible for upending people’s lives cause them stress, anxiety, and a desire to break free of their own pains in doing the job they have chosen. While Ryan is content with travel on the road, he hears from his estranged sister, Kara, that his other, younger sister, Julie is getting married. Ryan left home when he first could leave and never looked back, and his family still remembers that. He is the ‘black sheep’ of the family, known to pursue his own gratification while letting his relationships deteriorate over the years.

Having Alex as a love interest has reignited his desire to see his sisters again and to be there for the wedding in northern Wisconsin. Him and Alex are still a bit of a mystery to each other, but they enjoy each other’s company, and he invites her to join him as the +1 guest, not wanting to be the ‘guy alone at the bar’ watching all the couples enjoy a dance together. There are these moments of vulnerability interspersed through ‘Up in The Air’ that remind the audience that all these characters have their own flaws and shortcomings. They are not perfect people, and the film does not judge them outright but allows the audience to decide if they are admirable or detestable or a bit of both. What I love most is that the film director and writers allow us to decide if we agree with Ryan’s choices or if we would have chosen to go the other route in life that he has neglected.

Sometimes, it is never too late to choose a different path than the one that we have set out for ourselves. However, whether we can pull back from previous choices made and to get a fresh start on a new path, is one of the underlying themes of ‘Up in The Air.’ Ryan can try to start a real relationship with Alex, make amends with his sisters and be more present in their lives, and still achieve his 10-million-mile goal but life can get in the way so it’s possible he will not be as successful in salvaging both his relationships, his career goals, and his need for travel. Even if he thinks he can be successful at keeping everybody in his life happy, he may have to make sacrifices as in life, it can be nearly impossible to keep all options available to you.        

The priorities we make now while end up defining us far into the future and there may come a time where the sacrifices, we make in one area may lead to a lack of connection or attachment or fulfilment in another area. Throughout the film during Ryan’s motivational speeches, he talks about the ‘stuff’ in life weighing us down whether it’s our relationships, our possessions, and even our desires. He makes the point in the audience that ‘life can be better footloose’ and not as tied down to suffer from it. However, what the film makes clear is that when you find real happiness in a relationship, can you pivot to slowing down with that heavier backpack you carry around because you feel fulfilled to do so? Can Ryan make room for a real relationship with Alex or his sisters to give up life on the road so his backpack will be heavier, but he’ll still be happier as a result, and maybe that what’s he was missing all this time around?

While Ryan is a ‘road warrior’ and enjoys not being attached to anyone or anything, who will be there for him if he must stay at his scant one-bedroom apartment in Omaha or if he were to be fired from his job where he fires other people. The film brilliantly shows real people who’ve been through real loss in terms of their jobs and livelihoods, and how while it is almost impossible to get through it, they could not keep going on without their responsibility to their families or the love that their families show for them in those tough times. In life, it always helps to have a good support system or to have good people like family motivating you to get you through the tough times.

Ryan may be prepared for a life unattached now, but he may find as he gets older, that his choice to not have many or any attachments at all may lead to the loneliness and pain that then can come from facing life’s hurdles alone, especially when you don’t truly get to know the person because you are so busy traveling and can’t make time for them at all. As Ryan says to his sister Julie’s husband-to-be, Jim, on their wedding day to help him get over his ‘cold feet’ at getting married, “Life’s better with company.”

Anatomy of a Scene – ‘To Know Me Is To Fly With Me’

“He has found a job that allows him to be constantly on the road at a job he is good at without commitments or obligations that would keep him from being who he is.”

Some people are most comfortable on the ground, others down below beneath the sea. Ryan Bingham, however, is most comfortable up in the air. Ryan goes from city to city and from town to town racking up airline miles, staying in recognizable hotels, and sadly letting people go from jobs by helping them with the transition process to a new life. He does the dirty work, which can be quite tense and unforgiving. He does not do his job out of pleasure for helping companies fire people in-person but rather because he likes life on the road and is comfortable being in airports, rental cars, and hotels rather than in a cubicle or a factory day in and day out.

Without going into too much detail about the movie, ‘Up in The Air’, I’m going to focus on two scenes to encompass Ryan’s life on the road and how he should be known best. Ryan is single, not a family man, never been married, and does not go on at length about children because he does not have them. He is driven not by his family or his career per say but rather how his home is his backpack or suitcase and how if he stays still, he loses an essential part of who he is as a person. When other people brag about their kids’ latest success or their wife or husband’s latest accomplish, Ryan instead brags about his quest for ten million airline miles and how he has privileged status with his hotel rewards program.

While others would find Ryan’s lifestyle odd and unusual, he would consider their lifestyle to be the odd and unusual one. He has found a job that allows him to be constantly on the road at a job he is good at without commitments or obligations that would keep him from being who he is. While he enjoys being with people, he is also comfortable on his own and enjoys his own company. He believes that any other way to live would not be as satisfying and for what others dislike about traveling constantly, he relishes it. Ryan does not think anything, or anyone would derail him from continuing this lifestyle even after he reaches his ten million miles goal. If he were to stop, it may be only because he loses his job where he helps to fire people or if he met a woman who could live with his ‘unusual’ lifestyle.

“Fast Friends.”

As the scene ‘to know me is to fly with me’ demonstrates, Ryan’s friendships are often self-serving because he is often on the road and can’t have true friendships but rather ‘fast friendships.’ He is a new kind of person and must go along with his constantly shifting itinerary. Ryan is personable and likes to meet new people such as a man next to him in business class and can relate to another gentleman who likes to be on the road.

Ryan has traveled so much that he knows how to approach a conversation with a stranger sitting next to him. They can discuss family matters, where to go for good food in a specific city, and even about the dreams of the person he is sitting with. He may not have deep friendships but is personable and friendly enough to make a quick connection like he would a flight to a new city without skipping a beat.

Ryan can get the business card, say goodbye forever, and is busy enough to move on without feeling a sense of loss or sadness about not seeing that gentleman he had met and formed a connection with for a few hours just before. As Ryan indicates in his narration, he lives by ‘the margins of his itinerary’ and is committed to his schedule without missing a beat or feeling like he is out of step. Even where there is turbulence, bad airline food, or onerous airline security procedures, Ryan Bingham takes it all in stride. He is not dismayed by any of the various annoyances that plague the travel industry. It is where he feels most at home and is probably the only kind of life he would feel at home with.

“I am home.”

Another scene that compliments the ‘to know me is to fly with me’ deleted scene from the movie is where Ryan’s travel process is shown from beginning to end. Different from ‘fast friends’, Ryan’s job encompasses him helping companies too afraid to fire their employees directly by having him fly around the country and perhaps internationally to do it himself. He says that it’s easy to do it since “he’ll never see them again” but it does not seem like he takes pleasure in it and just uses it to travel for a living. Instead of ‘fast friends’, he may be making ‘fast discontents’ as they blame him for everything bad happening to them at that job even though it’s not his decision to fire them but their boss’s. While Ryan never sees them again like the friendly businessman sitting next to him on the plane, those brief moments of sad or happy coincidence just fall by the wayside when he focuses on his true passion of making the travel lifestyle of his as seamless as possible.

From organizing his TravelPro suitcase easily stored in the overhead bin in any normal jumbo-sized jet plane to making sure his ties and shirts are neatly folded to fit in his suitcase, Ryan fits the bill as a true traveler who knows what to do. “This is where I live.” Ryan says as he drops off his rental car, which he probably rented for free by using his compiled credit card miles. He avoids long check-in lines by having ‘priority access’ with his airline points allowing him such perks as a personalized greeting from one of the airline staff, which is part of sitting in the ’first class’ section of the airplane. While ‘Up in The Air’ was made before TSA Precheck and Global Entry came out as options to avoid long security and U.S. customs lines, you can believe Ryan would have been able to sign up for those perks as well for free due to his accrued airline miles.

From greeting the smiling airline staffer who is aware of his ‘privileged’ status to making it through the TSA check like it is second nature, Ryan is suited up to make himself presentable for the flight but does not forget to wear dress slip on shoes to make the onerous security check process a little bit faster and little less annoying. He gets out the two bins to put through the x-ray machine for his luggage, expertly has his laptop at the top of his carry-on bag ready to be placed in one of the bins and has the slip-on shoes out of his face so fast he does not struggle with getting them back on later. He even folds his suit jacket expertly in half, so it does not wrinkle at all as it goes through the machine and holds his boarding pass out in front of him through the metal detector, so the TSA security agents know he does not have “anything left in his pockets.”

“All the things you probably hate about traveling: the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispenses, the cheap sushi…are warm reminders that I am home. While most people would hate to have a job that makes them the face people have to see when they get fired or would not enjoy constantly being on the road most of the year, if not all of it, Ryan Bingham in ‘Up in The Air’ truly relishes it and would not have it any other way. There are Ryan Bingham’s in the world out there and they live a lifestyle that while unconventional and difficult, is a unique one that deserves some respect as it isn’t easily pulled off especially since as he said, the stuff most people hate about traveling, he really loves, and that is worth admiring about him.

‘A Serious Man’ – Film Review and Analysis

“Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.”

Man can be tested again and again but how exactly he deals with life’s challenges and his overall resolve and mettle will be seen as the measure of his true character. If I had to sum up the excellent movie, ‘A Serious Man’, it is a dark comedy but also a human drama regarding fate, fortune, and whether the role of a higher being can ultimately affect our destiny. Above all else, it is a story of a ‘serious’ man who wants to be taken seriously and seems unable to be granted that not only from his teenage children but also from his estranged wife and it seems from religious leaders in his suburban Jewish community.

‘A Serious Man’ (2009) is an excellent modern-day film directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, who I would imagine have had a similar childhood to the lead character of Larry Gopnik (played by Michael Stuhlbarg), which is the inspiration for this adapted screenplay, which is brilliantly written and relatable even if you’re not of the Jewish faith. The Coen Brothers both were raised and grew up as Jews in 1960s – 1970s Minnesota near the Twin Cities. It is likely they had to deal with being religious minorities in a mostly goyim (non-Jewish state) as well as with the growing counterculture and changing attitudes towards parental authority, sex, style, personal responsibility, and other societal upheavals including regarding race, gender, and politics.

While the Coen Brothers have had successful movies before and have won Academy Awards for movies such as ‘No Country for Old Men’, this film, ‘A Serious Man’ is quite unique given that it combines both comedic and dramatic elements, usually in the same scene. Overall, it triumphs as a film in doing that and is also laugh-out-loud funny and additionally heart-wrenchingly sad and melancholic. This film was universally praised and as I re-watched the film again after many years, it stands as one of the best films of the 2000s. Not only is the screenplay and writing engaging and insightful but also the acting is top notch thanks to the hard work of Michael Stuhlbarg, Richard Kind, Fred Melamed, among others in the film.

When you consider the main themes of ‘A Serious Man’, you think of several of them that deal with human nature such as upholding your morality under stress, taking care of those closest to you, dealing with adversity and unforeseen hurdles, and how to deal with questions of faith when you feel that you have been abandoned. As I mentioned earlier on, Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) wants to be taken seriously given the way he has lived his life and he has strived to do so with his academic and professional accomplishments. Sadly though, he is not only not able to get as much success with his professional pursuits, but he also struggles to hold his personal life together.

Despite how ‘serious’ of a man Larry thinks he is, those in his life can’t help but not take him seriously or choose not to. Instead of reassessing his actions and trying to make some behavioral changes or work on any personal defects he may has in addressing his challenges, Larry instead challenges his faith in God and wonders if the Rabbis of his synagogue will have the answers to the questions God has challenged Larry with.

As the film starts out, Larry appears to be relatively successful as a Physics professor waiting to be tenured. He teaches his classes, does research (albeit has not published anything), and enjoys the work he does. Larry is married with two teenage children and a modest house in the suburbs. Him and his family want for nothing, and it looks like he has everything you could want out of life on the surface.

As appearances can be deceiving, the film breaks down how one man’s life can be turned upside down and inferring what events beyond Larry’s control could have tipped his fortune to be negative, as in a curse, years or centuries ago. It is a series of events that tend to turn Larry’s life upside down even when he has not done anything wrong. A Korean student in his Physics class tries to bribe Larry to get a better grade and leaves before Larry can return the money and punish him for the illegal act.

Larry also comes home to his wife, Judith, who asks him for a divorce and for a ‘gett’ or permission to do so she can remarry within the faith to Sy Abelman (Fred Melamed) who everyone takes seriously as a ‘Serious Man’ except for Larry. Larry is envious of Sy to some degree and feels like he has everything given to him whereas Larry has had to work hard for his success. Suddenly, ‘the domino effect’ of one negative event after another happens including Larry losing his home, access to his bank accounts, his marriage, and even his relationship to his teenage children become estranged.

This string of unfortunate events has Larry looking to cast judgment on God and questioning his faith in Judaism. Larry goes to three different rabbis whose advice and counsel does not help him any further. He cannot relate to what they tell them especially as the eldest, he considers to be too unavailable or unwilling and the youngest rabbi being too inexperienced or immature, who end up wasting his time. The 2nd and wisest rabbi give him the advice through an allegory, that while fictional, has a good message to it ends up helping Larry the most that God can only provide the questions, but you must find your own answers. The best way the 2nd rabbi implies to Larry is that he must “help himself by helping others.”

Essentially, Larry Gopnik must look beyond his own pain and selfish wants and look to control what he can and do what he can to get his life back on track. Larry can also do ‘mitzvahs’ especially regarding his own family. Larry’s younger brother, Arthur, is homeless and not mentally sound so Larry tries to get him on his feet but struggles to find the money or the resources to help his brother with his many troubles. He still attempts to maintain better relations with his kids, his soon to be ex-wife, and with his work colleagues. Without spoiling the rest of the movie, Larry understands that he must look to help others rather than looking to God to intervene. While ‘The Boss’ is present to give questions, the answers must come from within.

How Larry stands up to challenges and adversity is like the Torah’s stories about men like Job and Jonah who had their lives thrown into upheaval but were able to get over the anguish by holding true to their faith in God but looking inwards in their own strength, knowledge, and belief in morality and good will to make it through on the other side better than before. Life throws challenges at us every day and how we react to them and try to get through it with our God-given wisdom, kindness, compassion, patience, and reasoning will decide how far we can proceed in life to get back to being successful. Fortune is not everlasting, and faith will not provide good fortune. What can provide good fortune is to do your best, help yourself and others around you, and look to your own inner beliefs and values to guide you through the tough times.

‘A Serious Man’ is about a man who considers himself to be serious but has to struggle for others to call him ‘serious.’ In an effort to be taken seriously, Larry does end up struggling to fulfill the other important parts of his life that require his attention. He can forget to be loving and caring to his wife, attentive and helpful to his children, and more involved within the Jewish community including at his son’s Hebrew school. Larry is not a bad man but the cracks in his life cause some bad events to happen including events for which there is no logical explanation. Larry does his best to be a good man and although he is flawed, bad things happen out of nowhere to him.

The test throughout this excellent film is how do you claw back from adversity and try to give yourself the best shot at having good things happen in your life. Even if your family may appear to be cursed or have a string of bad fortune dating back to the shtetls of Eastern Europe, how do you turn it around so your son or your daughter don’t deal with the same tragedies and setbacks? There are no easy answers in ‘A Serious Man’ but the Coen Brothers make it clear that it is not wise to look to God to solve the problems for you or provide the answers.

The central message of this film is not just for Jews but for all people. God may have provided life’s questions for you to answer but it’s up to you alone to answer them throughout your life. While you may lose faith in hose providing counsel or advice or in the religion itself, the film makes clear that you have to believe in yourself, to help yourself pull through the pain and sorrow, and to help other people, especially the family and friends closest to you, who are going through tough times as well, whose aid and assistance you can provide may be able to help you get to the right direction in life again and to lead you to a better place than you were before.

Anatomy of a Scene – ‘A Small Measure of Peace’

“To be at a certain place or with a certain person for the rest of your days and to be at ease with your decision, that contentedness is to have found the ‘small measure of peace’ that we can spend our entire lives trying to capture but only a few ever truly find.”

The Last Samurai (2003) – ‘A Small Measure of Peace’

There is a distinct moment in our lives when we realize that the fight is done, and the work is over. It is a pleasant realization that all you can do has been done and that you must take the rest of our days to welcome ‘a small measure of peace’ in one’s life, which is not easily found or embraced. To be at a certain place or with a certain person for the rest of your days and to be at ease with your decision, that contentedness is to have found the ‘small measure of peace’ that we can spend our entire lives trying to capture but only a few ever truly find.

It does not mean that the work is over but rather that the trials of our life have come to pass and that what we have fought for, bled for, or even cried for have now come to pass. While there may no final resting place until we depart from this Earth, finding a small patch of land to call your own, a garden or a farm for you to mend, and a woman (or a man) for whom you can love freely, that is the ‘small measure of peace’ to strive for obtaining, especially in one’s later years.

One man who was able to find his small measure of peace was Nathan Algren, who in ‘The Last Samurai’ can redeem himself, end his alcoholism, and fight with courage and honor in preserving the memory of the Samurai. While the Samurai age came to an end, Industrial Japan, and its Emperor, partly thanks to Nathan leading the Samurai into battle, to preserve their dignity and honor, were able to leave their mark on Japanese culture and history. While he may have been the last Samurai and a foreigner in Japan, he was able to rally them to a glorious end for which Imperial Japan would never forget.

“Tell me how he died.” “I will tell you…how he lived.” Even after losing his close confidant and friend in the final battle, the samurai Katsumoto, who took Nathan under his wing, told him the ways of the Samurai, and introduced him to the woman he came to love, Nathan wanted to preserve his memory to the young Emperor and to let the Imperial Japanese court know how special the age of the Samurai was and how it should not be forgotten.

“Nations, like Men, it is sometimes said…have their own destiny.” While nations choose to look forward to the future, they must also embrace the past to preserve their identity. What was once part of their culture may go away but it can leave an imprint and be remembered by generations to come. Japan’s destiny lies in looking to the future but always remembering the past, such as the age of the Samurai. Nathan Algren, the American who learned the ways of the Samurai, was able to throw off his own turbulent past as a Civil War captain by learning to fight with dignity and honor as a Samurai in a cause bigger than his own ego.

“As for the American Captain, no one knows what became of him…some say…he died of his wounds…others…that he returned to his own country…But I like to think…he may have, at last, found some small measure of peace…that we all seek…and few of us ever find.”

After trying to get himself killed or trying to deliberately drink himself to death, being able to survive as the last Samurai and tell of their traditions to keep the memory of Katsumoto alive, Nathan Algren was able to finally let go of the demons of his past and find the small measure of peace in a small Japanese village where he was first introduced to the only woman he truly loved. In her, Nathan finds a reason to stay alive, to make a life away from war and suffering, to be part of the woman’s village again, and perhaps start anew where he could be at peace with the past and have a pleasant future that is filled with love and peace.

As Nathan gathers his horse and rides down to Taka’s village, he is a man who is content, who is at peace, and who knows what exactly he must do for the rest of his living days. Taka and Nathan have a history together over the course of the film but by the ending scene, she is happy to see him alive and well again. Her beauty, grace, and femininity shine through as she gazes at Nathan, giving him a heartfelt smile, happy to see him in her presence again.

One look at each other says it all and they have been through so much in their time together that just to be making eye contact again is enough to fill up both of their hearts with joy. Like how Japan was willing to move forward to a new age while remembering the last Samurai, Nathan is also ready to be at peace with his past while looking to the future with Taka.

“…It’s Just A Business” – Anatomy of A Scene

“As one economic system is thrown into recession, other illicit ones, such as illegal gambling tend to flourish in its wake, which is what ‘Killing Them Softly’ does a good job of showing the effects of a recession leading to a boom in the illicit economy.”

“America is not a country, it’s just a business.”

‘Killing Them Softly’ is a 2012 movie that flew under the radar at the time of its release. It may seem on the surface as a movie about the mob regarding unpaid debts, illegal gambling rings, and retribution for those caught in the crossfire, but what makes this movie different is its allegory laid out in the film regarding its relation to the financial system. As the mafia tries to prop up its system of illegal gambling rings and extortion rackets by using different hired hitmen, there are radio and TV clips highlighting the role of different politicians trying to prop up the financial system in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. To keep the system functioning, drastic measures are taken.

As the U.S. economy suffers, illegal activities flourish and there are those people who get caught up in resorting to crime to keep their head above water. When the illegal system malfunctions such as a Mafia protected card game gets robbed by criminals outside the system, Jackie Cogan (played by Brad Pitt) is called upon as an enforcer hired to restore order to prevent the local criminal economy to collapse.

When any economy, illicit or legal, are ripped from its foundations, there will be enforcers or politicians who will need to clean up the mess left behind. While the allegory is not spelled out in the film, As Jackie is left to clean up the mess of the robbed card game by getting revenge on the small-time criminals who wanted to disrupt the system, many scenes highlight how the U.S. economy needs to be bailed out due to the irresponsible actions of the bankers and financial traders who got the country into this mess. While it may not be the most pertinent allegory, Jackie Cogan, is there to maintain order in their own local illegal gambling racket, similar to how leading politicians in government are called upon to maintain order when the national financial system is ready to crash.

Jackie Cogan is on his own throughout the movie and must rely upon himself to fix the mess left behind from the mob-protected robbed card game’s aftermath. He knows other mob enforcers who could help but they’re jaded, bitter, or too worse for wear having done Jackie’s job multiple times before to keep the mafia afloat. Above all else, Jackie is in it for himself to get paid and survive in an economic situation that is affecting everyone, criminal or civilian.

U.S. political leaders, similarly, were asked to intervene on behalf of the government, to step in to save a system that was being abused by financial firms, but also individuals, who made irresponsible decisions, and even illegal ones, which caused the national economy to crash. To prevent the system from collapsing, former Presidents, George W. Bush, and then Barack Obama had to step in to save the economy even though the system itself was at fault.

In the wake of the financial crisis that still resulted from the bad decisions and greedy actions of its players, when there’s a resulting increase in unemployment and poverty as the film depicts along with the collapse of some communities, some people will inevitably turn to criminal and illegal activities including gambling, extortion, and drug dealing. As one economic system is thrown into recession, other illicit ones, such as illegal gambling tend to flourish in its wake, which is what ‘Killing Them Softly’ does a good job of showing the effects of a recession leading to a boom in the illicit economy.

Without spoiling too much of the film, the ending scene takes place with Jackie and the mafia’s head accountant meeting at a bar to discuss his payment rendered for being an enforcer to keep the Mob card game running afloat after the perpetrators were punished for robbing it. Jackie, like the head Mafia accountant, are using each other for the money and stability of their own enterprises. Jackie Cogan is in it for himself as other enforcers were not able to do what he does, and he wants to be rewarded for it.

The Mob accountant is looking to make sure his illegal enterprise stays afloat without paying more than he needs to. In this scene, Jackie raises the rate of how much he charges for committing the hits on the people who robbed the card game due to the ‘recession.’ The mob accountant counters by saying that what they would him are the ‘recession’ prices and that he’s getting what another enforcer who couldn’t do the job would normally get.

“You know this business is a business of relationships.” The accountant tells Jackie that they want to keep the relationship with him going since every other enforcer is unavailable so he should not ask for more money given he might need to help them again. Jackie isn’t fooled by this plea to continue their ‘working’ relationship because at the end of the day, it’s about getting paid by them and they could not care less what happens to the enforcers who clean up the mob’s mess.

The accountant is listening to the 2008 election night acceptance speech by then-Presidential candidate Barack Obama imploring Americans to see each other as ‘one people’ and ‘out of many, we are one.’ Jackie doesn’t buy it given the circumstances for which he lives out his life in America. The accountant labels him as a ‘cynical’ person but he has reason to be as ends up cleaning up messes violently and criminally to keep the gravy train for others rolling.

Jackie sees even one of the founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson’ as a hypocrite because while he wanted freedom and liberty for all, he still owned slaves and wasn’t actually fighting for the ideals he espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Despite being known as an ‘American Saint’, Jackie believes Jefferson was out for himself and his own interests and that there are no unifying ideals that bind the country together besides the need for ‘money.’

“Don’t make me laugh…I’m living in America…and in America, you’re on your own. America is not a country, it’s just a business.” Jackie Cogan, after what he goes through in the film, is looking to get paid and survive at the end of the day. He is corrupted and evil but justifies his actions by telling himself and the audience that he’s on his own like many other people were in the financial crisis and must take this blood money from the mafia to make it in America.

When Jackie Cogan hears American politicians say that “we’re all in this together”, “we are one community, one nation”, he believes that no one is looking out for him, not even his mafia employers, and must fight for every dollar he can have because he would not survive otherwise. ‘Killing Them Softly’ is not just about a low-level mafia enforcer keeping a mob-run gambling ring going after doing contract kills on three people who robbed one of the games.

Throughout the film, whether its news clips, radio segments, or the desperate actions of its characters, ‘Killing Them Softly’ is primarily about the larger and looming allegory for the larger failures of the economic system who could not protect many of its citizens from financial ruin in the wake of the 2008 crisis. The effects of this past crisis reverberates even to this day, whose mess created such dire circumstances for people across the country to fend for themselves. While the small-town mafia and Wall Street can get propped up by those who intervene to save it, the film makes it a key point in this ending scene that for too many Americans, they believe they have been left behind by a financial system that does not work for them and for a culture where it’s “winner take all” and if you get left behind, nobody is going to be there to bail you out.

My Thoughts on the ‘Muhammad Ali’ PBS Documentary

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble. Ahhhhhh!” This catchphrase from the Greatest boxer of all-time, Muhammad Ali, still ring in my ears as I write about the legend.”

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Rumble, young man, rumble. Ahhhhhh!” This catchphrase from the Greatest boxer of all-time, Muhammad Ali, still ring in my ears as I write about the legend. After 8-hours of rarely seen footage, insightful interviews from those people who knew him best, and catchy music and news events highlighting the era and period in which the Greatest grew up in, the Muhammad Ali documentary on PBS (American public television) is a real knockout. There is too much television and movies out there to choose from especially with the streaming services but the Muhammad Ali documentary, recently released in September of 2021 is worth a watch.

Eight hours in total length, split into four ‘rounds or parts, the documentary chronicles the entire 74-years old in which Muhammad Ali or Cassius Clay walked among us mere mortals from his childhood in Louisville to his rise to boxing stardom dating from Rome to New York City to Manila to his old age, where he sadly struggled through the progression of the fatal Parkinson’s disease. Ali was a man who was almost too unreal to believe he had existed because of all he said, accomplished, and did during his life.

If you looked in an English idiom dictionary for the expression, ‘larger than life’, a picture and short description about Muhammad Ali should be there as well. The swagger he had when he walked in a room, his way with words as a poet and the ability to dress down his opponent with insults as powerful as his punches, and his commitment to not only his religion but the people around him such as a friends, family, and even random strangers who he would often give money, food, or anything they needed when they were going through a tough time.

Ali was not just talented in the ring, but he was also extremely intelligent, wise beyond his years, and able to be charismatic with many people he would meet. Most boxers would keep to themselves back in the 1960s or 1970s and would not embrace trash-talking, denigrating their opponents, or making bold claims that they weren’t sure would come to fruition. Muhammad Ali did the exact opposite and he built up a reputation to the point where billions of people knew who he was from America to Africa and from Asia to South America. His rants became legendary, and his diatribes were shown to garner a huge amount of press to sell his fights. In my view, he made boxing a global sport and he connected with all people regardless of race, ethnicity, national origin, or religion. He had love for everybody except for the men he would fight against.

The difference with Muhammad Ali compared to other braggart boxers is that he would often back up his predictions by making them real especially in his early days beating boxers like Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson. He would not only predict that he would win his fight, but he specifically predicted the round in which his poor opponent would be knocked out. His legend grew the more he talked trash and made fun of his opponents and he backed it up in the ring by winning constantly. If he were not Muhammad Ali in terms of talent, hard work, and pure drive to be great, as a boxer, he would have faded away quickly, He simply was a once-in-a-century talent who kept boxing as a world sport in his era and it was the height of its popularity as a sport in America.

Ali, perhaps because of his family upbringing, his change of religion to Islam, or because of an innate sense of right and wrong was a plain-spoken activist who didn’t mince words. He was against racism in all its forms, was against the Vietnam War, and stood up for the poor and disenfranchised people around the world who were without the same opportunities that he had been able to take advantage of because of his boxing talent. While he was a devout member of the group, the Nation of Islam, and had his differences with both Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr., because of his affiliation with that group, he often strived to be a critical thinker on issues of race and religion and would dutifully follow his conscience often when expressing himself in public, as he often did in the national and global spotlight.

Sadly, Muhammad Ali, in pursuit of fame, fortune, and women, made serious mistakes along the way to become the greatest boxer of all-time. The constant time spent on the road, the brutal training regimens, the temptations he succumbed to with extramarital affairs, and even his disregard for friendships such as with Malcolm X or neglecting his wife(wives) or children due to his first love of boxing. He was an imperfect man who committed many sins as he puts it in the documentary.

However, even his sins did not stop him from putting in the work to commit more good deeds than sins throughout his life and for which when it came down to his estimation of himself as a Muslim at the end of his life, he felt comfort knowing he committed more rights than wrongs upon his death. The difference too with Ali is that he knew he had done wrong and tried to make amends later in life for his misdeeds. He apologized and atoned for his womanizing, unnecessary insults of other boxers, and his previous disavowal of friends and family like Malcolm X when they conflicted with his loyal membership to the Nation of Islam.

When I think about this documentary, the way it was able to catalog every major event in Ali’s life while simultaneously describing how he must have felt or acted the way he did during those pivotal moments in his life make this documentary the greatest one made about ‘The Greatest’ himself. Few documentaries go into that much detail, use relevant interviews and narration, while maximizing the quality of historical footage to draw the viewer in. If you are new to the good works of Ken Burns, Sarah Burns, Lynn Novick, David McMahon, and the rest of his wonderful documentary team, he is one of America’s greatest filmmakers in this genre.

Having done previous documentaries on ‘Baseball’, ‘Jackie Robinson’, and the other famous American boxer, ‘Jack Johnson’, you can tell that Ken and his team feel as comfortable documenting American sports history as much as his other documentaries on American politics and war history too. The sheer years of effort it takes to create an eight-hour long documentary like this one on ‘Muhammad Ali’ shows you how dedicated to the craft of documentary making Ken Burns and his team are. They have been doing it for over forty years now and it seems like they get better and better with each new documentary. If this documentary is the first you’ve seen by Ken Burns, do yourself a favor and watch the other sports history documentaries and check out his other ones on other aspects of American history.

What I enjoy most about documentaries about sports or political figures done by Ken Burns and team is that they highlight major events, victories, and defeats of that person or the team, but they also make sure to put that figure or people fit in with the swirling tide of history and timeline through the music soundtrack, the relevant footage, and the interviews with those people from the same era or who know that era in history.

The ‘Muhammad Ali’ documentary is not just about ‘The Greatest’ himself but about the times he lived in as an American and how he changed the country just as he was changed by the country himself. He influenced America more than most figures throughout the 20th century and will be remembered by future generations. He will be known not simply as the greatest boxer of all-time but also as a man who stood up for his principles, fought or did not fight for what he believed in, and enacted positive social changes by helping the poor, the disenfranchised, or even the stranger on the street.

He was a larger-than-life figure who transcended both sports, politics, and culture, and this ‘larger than life’ documentary pays great homage to one of the most celebrated and remembered Americans in the nation’s 246-year long and counting history.

A Premonition from Wall-E

“You cannot argue against the fact that the creators of Wall-E were trying to warn the adults in the audience that this vision for humanity is a lot closer to reality than we would like to imagine.”

The beauty of Pixar movies is that they are not only for children to enjoy but adults as well. Many Pixar movies from Toy Story to Finding Nemo to The Incredibles carry important lessons regarding how to be caring, how to look out for one another, and how to stand up to injustice. Children enjoy the characters and the visuals while adults enjoy the lessons behind the main storyline. We understand how it can be painful to give up childhood toys in ‘Toy Story’, we understand the value of a new friendship earned as in ‘Finding Nemo’, and we deeply get the humdrum of the 9 to 5 day job that’s unfulfilling, but you need the money to survive or to feed a family as in ‘The Incredibles.’

The most powerful example of Pixar bringing adult anxiety and familiarity to life would be in its central ‘premonition’ in their hit film, Wall-E. What the movie ‘Wall-E’, released back in 2008, did was essentially predict where we are heading in 2021 potentially and where we could be by mid-century even though the movie is set in another eight centuries in the 2900s. The central ‘premonition’ or prediction that the film Wall-E makes is about the state of our beloved Planet Earth in the far future although that future in 2021 seems a lot closer to our collective reality than it was even thought of back in 2008. In the Pixar film, the Earth has become a garbage-strewn, hopelessly polluted planet with corporate greed, blatant consumerism, and environmental collapse being the norm rather than the exception. On top of all that, there are robots who do 99% of the labor that humans used to do.

In a particular scene that has stuck with me over the past decade is the sight of exceedingly overweight people in electric motor-scooters being hypnotized by their screens, totally oblivious to the environmental damage and neon advertising signs now in their periphery. In this bleak vision of the future, humans have let themselves go while robots have picked up the slack. Robots steer the ships through space and like Wall-E, they are forced to find a planet for recolonization that can suit humans now that the Earth has become an open-air garbage dump. Poor Wall-E.

Although you could say that this vision is a bit nonsensical in that everyone on Earth has become hopelessly dependent on robots, screens, and consumer goods to make it through the day, you cannot argue against the fact that the creators of Wall-E were trying to warn the adults in the audience that this vision for humanity is a lot closer to reality than we would like to imagine. 

While the film does not mention how did the Earth get so polluted where it’s become inundated with garbage everywhere or how did humans get so overweight, you can tell the writers were using a possible worst outcome scenario if we don’t try to look after ourselves better and to look after the planet that we love. ‘Wall-E’ takes the dystopian vision of the future to the extreme, but I would say that they are trying to take us to the worst-case scenario to make it clear how bad things could still get if we don’t start cleaning up our own act.

In 2021, who could argue with the fact that there are some sadly overweight people who cannot get around without motorized scooters, the fact that there are certain people who interact more with screens than other human beings, and that the fact that there are certain areas of the planet that have ceased to be livable because they are indeed open-air garbage dumps. The brilliance of a premonition is that it is essentially one vision of the future, and it does not necessarily mean that it will come true. This premonition of the movie Wall-E is not just a dystopian vision but a warning to humanity. Even back in 2008, we were warned that if we don’t start taking care of ourselves and the planet, life as we know it in the future will be worse. To those of you reading this article who would say, “It’s just a Pixar movie and is just fiction! Why should we take a fictional Pixar movie seriously?”

To that critique, I would say that there is often truth found in fiction and just because it’s not a true story and is an animated movie does not mean we should not take the film’s central message seriously. If you see the entire film, the average viewer should realize the main message of Wall-E is to always take responsibility for one’s actions because if one person doesn’t in terms of neglecting their health, their lack of care for others and the planet, and to obsessed with the latest technology, that one person’s behavior causes ripples throughout society causing life for everyone to get progressively worse.

The first part of the premonition where we can change our actions so that this warning does not come true is to stay active, eat healthy, and exercise. To end up like a person who is carried around on a motor scooter and can’t even walk around or push buttons anymore is no good way to go through life. Many people today live sedentary lifestyles and are less physically engaged than previous generations. Each person really must work at it to stay physically active if their work or lifestyle does not encourage it. Hopefully, Wall-E encourages more people to take the initiative to take their health seriously because being tied to technology, to consumer goods, and to the latest food fad can end up causing this part of the premonition to become a reality for more and more individuals.

The second part of the premonition where we can change our actions to stop this premonition is to lessen our addiction to technology. Screens are inevitably part of our present and our future, but we must continue to monitor our screen usage, encourage reading and other activities that are not done on screens, and to be able to take a day or more away from screens from time to time. In Wall-E, the people being carted around were staring at their screens continuously like zombies without being aware of the outside world. They didn’t even pay attention to Wall-E when he zips on by and he’s a living robot! I’m sure each of you reading this article has your own story of seeing someone on their phone as they walk across the street not aware of cars driving by or of someone else driving a car and staring at their phone screen rather than paying attention to what’s ahead of them on the road. Technology can help our lives out in many ways, but it is addictive, it is invasive, and it also can cause us to make deadly mistakes. Wall-E clearly warned us back in 2008 about the setbacks of being addicted to our screens.

The last part of the premonition that is most worrisome not just for individuals or for society but for the entire planet. Rampant pollution, poor air quality, lack of trees and vegetation are the main planetary problems highlighted by Wall-E. While the movie doesn’t cover how Earth became uninhabitable, it lays the blame squarely on human beings and our lack of care for the environment. The planet as depicted is filled with garbage, essentially having become an open-air landfill. Because of the Earth being ruined, Robots have must help humans find a new home but there is an underlying message there that how can we not ruin another planet when the Earth was not taken care of? When you can no longer breathe the air or drink the water, what good would a new planet do if the same mistakes are to be made? The environmental impact we are having on our planet has been known for decades and it was made known to the audience in Wall-E back in 2008 but it’s now getting late into 2021 and sadly, it seems as if environmental damage and climate change is getting worse, having greater impacts, and causing us to look more seriously at the fact that the planet might not be habitable for future generations to come.

When you look at Wall-E, you see an animated robot who is both goofy yet cares enough in trying to save Earth, which is seemingly past the point of no return in the movie. I hope we never get to the point in the far future when robots care more about the planet than we do to save it. Wall-E’s central premonition has come true in some aspects of life, but we do still have enough to change ourselves, our society, and our planet so that the premonition does not become a reality. There is indeed truth in fiction and Wall-E is an excellent film that shows us how if we don’t pay attention to the warnings laid out before us, we will make the same mistakes as the human characters do in Wall-E.

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