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Hits to the Heart and Mind from the Land of Dreams
The United States Of Leland
Ouch. When The United States Of Leland came out it was, for the most part, pilloried and dismissed by the critics as a quagmire with virtually no elements of redemptive thought or theme - proving that even worldly, seen-it-all movie reviewers want to perceive some positive aspect synthesized out of a tragic story's plot, or at least some relevant irony. The film has fared better with general viewers and informal critics, who seemed to get the intended points better than the pros on this one.
This may actually be a dicey choice for an article on movie quotes, but the subject is more than important enough for any discussion people might want to bring to it. And indeed, unlike some films that have negligible effect and immediately fade, this movie lingers on many minds. This may be because, though it possibly failed to deliver some configuration of answers, response or cause for hope to the questions it raised, and was somewhat stifled in its construction by too much of the "writer's prescence," the questions it raised are relevant and piercing.
Leland Fitzgerald: I think there are two ways you can see the world. You either see the sadness that's behind everything or you choose to keep it all out.
Who has looked at the world and their lives and not experienced various degrees of the total poignancy of sadness? And each person deals with it in their own unique way, often with great courage. But there is a certain red flag that springs up at the definitive declaration that there is only the sorrow at work that dominantly matters; there is only surrendering to it or desperately ignoring it. This is obviously despair. Perhaps, there is something inside of us that senses that, despite the mystery of the existence of misery and misfortune, appointing it as the primary truth, the whole truth, is—missing something. It has a tell-tale feel of lacking dimension. Sometimes, even in our sadder moments, there can be the whisper of intuition that there is more to the meaning of what is happening than the pain. Although, of course, there are times when there is little or no comfort to be found. This is basically the story of a mind, an intelligent one at that, overwhelmed by sorrow.
Leland: The worst part is knowing that there is goodness in people. Mostly it stays deep down and buried. Maybe we don't have God because we're scared of the bad stuff. Maybe we're really scared of the good stuff. Because if there's no God, well, that means it's inside of us and we could be good all the time if we wanted. So when we do bad things, it'd be because we want to or because we have to. Or maybe we just need the bad stuff to remind us what the good stuff is in the first place.
The existence of "bad stuff" negates goodness. A tempting conclusion sometimes, born of pain.
TV Reporter: Why did you do it, Leland?
Leland: Because of the sadness.
TV Reporter: What sadness? Whose sadness?
Leland: Your sadness.
It can even go so far that goodness becomes an unbearable part of the equation. And our power to make choices, whether some illusion or not, can be a heady realization. Does this cosmic status preclude an originating force at work? Or is existence some truly mysterious alchemy of Creator/Created—with the Created, in turn, having the ability to create a path—countless variations and yet correlated? And, in some ultimately all encompassing way, perfectly correlated? We are all, even the most focused and empowered, in a sort of free fall. And yet, in a certain way, the self we know is steering. And as anyone can attest, the challenge can be wearing.
Albert Fitzgerald: I recall when our lives were unusual and electric. When we burned with something close to fire. But now we sway to a different rhythm. Lives lived without meaning or even directed hope. The passage of time measured only by loss. Loss of a job, loss of a minivan...a son.
Yet, the opposite exists; they define each other as opposites do, and the challenge can be glorious.
More of the alarming meltdown of smart but tragic reasoning.
Leland: I wonder how much of their lives people waste crying and praying to God. If you ask me, the devil makes more sense than God does. I can at least see why people would want him around. It's good to have somebody to blame for the bad stuff they do. Maybe God's there because people get scared of all the bad stuff they do. They figure that God and the Devil are always playing this game of tug-of-war with them. And they never know which side they're gonna wind up on. I guess that tug-of-war idea explains how sometimes, even when people try to do something good, it still turns out bad.
Again, the power and the responsibility of the self. We have an integral history of personifying both the positive and the negative. The devil does make for a frightening force and perhaps a good patsy.
As caring, engaged people, we look at a story like this and want to understand, as best we can, what can be learned—immeasurably more when similiar things occur in real life. Can we apply any insight to prevent the same situations in the future? Are there elements there that would help us better understand ourselves in general? The film points out a very powerful concept as part of a response, and it may strike deeper than it was credited for in the general analysis that followed.
Mrs. Calderon: You have to believe that life is more than the sum of its parts, kiddo.
And later, Leland's assimilation of it.
Leland:This one is something a friend of mine said to me. "You have to believe that life is more than the sum of its parts, kiddo." I remember it right now to the "kiddo" part. But when I think about what she said, the same thing always comes into my head. What if you can't put the pieces together in the first place?
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. A concept around since the time of Aristotle, as best as can be determined. A variation that is perhaps more so the genus, what Aristotle apparently actually wrote and has been drawn through Gestaltian thought—The whole is different than the sum of its parts.
Different/Greater. Setting aside, momentarily and with great care, the issue of the physiological aspect of mental disturbance, and the whole subject of how that in turn is sourced and can be changed—a huge topic unto itself—what might truly be important to take away from this story in general?
When the frustrations and vagaries of life lead to only the negative being prioritized, and no longer recognized or accepted as a puzzling but defining counterpart to the positive, the result is devastatingly skewered. We all know about the old keep your chin up, think positive, perseverance lines of philosophies. But these ideas, combined with whatever serenity and personal reconcilliation we can find inside ourselves regarding the mystery of good/bad, may indeed be valuable information. Maybe, some of the most valuable of all.
Lady on Airplane: Aren't you an actor?
Albert Fitzgerald: Aren't we all, dear.
A paraphrase, really, of the Bard's "All the world's a stage..." But besides merely players, we also seem to be very much coauthors, and the themes we concentrate on are key—even when the story seems to be happening to us more than it seems that we are doing any of the authoring.
Pearl Madison: I'm only human, man.
Leland: It's funny how people only say that after they do something bad. I mean, you never hear someone say, "I'm only human" after they rescue a kid from a burning building.
Good point. Maybe we need more of "I'm only human" as it relates to all the good, brave, smart, kind, tremendous things people do countless times a day.
The Whole is different, the Whole is greater—than the sum of its parts.
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