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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Movie review x2: Confessions of a Shopaholic and City Lights

On such a momentous day, it seems frivolous to start off with this, a movie review. Nonetheless, I was taken with both films I saw this week and wanted to share them.

I'll start with the first I saw, Charlie Chaplin's City Lights. Many of us know of Chaplin and his movies. Until recently, he'd been a household name for about a century. Few of us actually know his work first hand, however, except for the rather becoming biopic ca. 1992, where Robert Downey, Jr. played the title character.

However, in an effort to a) build up my children's cultural literacy (not to mention my own, ahem) and b) provide them with decent films to watch, I've begun taking films from Chaplin's oeuvre via Netflix.

City Lights is a very engaging film. The story concerns a tramp (i.e., homeless vagabond) who sees a beautiful blind girl who sells flowers on the street. She is not only blind but impoverished. Through a series of encounters, she comes to believe Chaplin's character is a rich benefactor and suitor. What follows is much brilliant slapstick, visual foibles (after all, it is a silent film), and touching pathos, although the movie is never maudlin and only rarely manipulative. I liked the ending particularly, because a) it left you wondering and b) it wasn't what most Hollywood films would do today, which would be to go for the easy, sentimental conclusion.

I especially liked the underlying moral. Blind flower girl (she's not given a name; nor is he) is beguiled by her belief that someone of wealth is paying attention to little ol' her. She likes his kindness, yes, and his personality and the things he does for her. But especially given the film's last scene, one gets the sense that she is especially taken -- through pride? insecurity (which is, after all, born of pride)? -- by his imagined wealth, whatever the personal charms with which this man has treated her.

On the other hand, the Little Tramp is motivated by nothing but chaste, chivalric love, the type written about so movingly in the Middle Ages. He is struck by her beauty, her gentleness, her innocence and kindness, her humility, and so many other wonderful qualities. His love for her is truly pure. And because the definition of love is not "It's a powerful feeling we have in our hearts for another person" but rather, "Constantly seeking the good of the other, even at the cost of the good to ourselves," it is a true love. Chaplin's portrayal here is an icon of love properly defined. It is, frankly, a love we see less and less the more and more we become convinced that love is a feeling, and if the feeling dies, well, c'est la vie, so has love. Indeed, it has died by definition, then, hasn't it? So we need more of the sort of portrayal we see in City Lights, and thank God He let Charlie Chaplin leave us a template in this regard.

Bottom line: Good, entertaining, film with a worthy moral. Worth watching before you get Modern Times.

The second film was one that totally surprised me. I often base my rentals of current films on the A-F scores given by Entertainment Weekly. However, while its reviewers are highly intelligent, it is evident we come from two different worldviews. As such, I've ordered films recommended by them as "A" quality that I turned off after 15 minutes or so because they were so atrocious in their world view.

I'm happy to report, however, that Confessions of a Shopaholic lives up to its billing. It's a wonderful film on many levels. The only things I found objectionable were the (admittedly infrequent) abuses of the Holy Name of God and the several scenes showing the lead character's best friend in bed with her boyfriend/fiance. The characters were fully clothed and you never saw anything indecent. Still, why couldn't we have seen them on the couch or at the table or in chairs? Since the characters were simply talking, why this? It seems to back up charges of liberal social engineering.

The story concerns Rebekah (sp?), who is a shopaholic. In an effort to pay off her ever mounting credit card bills (she tallies them to $13,000 at one point) and advance her career ambitions, she takes a job as a writer at a struggling New York financial magazine that has the reputation of "the People magazine of the finance industry." Her handsome editor gives her a shot and helps motivate her to produce something new and fresh, and she becomes something of a hit. However, her past catches up with her, and I'll leave it to you to see how everything washes out in the end.

I liked this movie because it is funny, engaging, and filled wall-to-wall with the incredible vivaciousness of Isla Fisher, who resembles a modern-day Lucille Ball, and not just because of her fetching looks and bright red hair. This movie has an All-Star cast: John Goodman, Joan Cusack, Ed Helms, Fred Armistad, John Lithgow, and Kristin Scott Thomas. However, none of them fill the screen like Fisher. She is amazing.

I especially like the moral of the story: Things can't make you happy, and our use of them to make us happy begins and ends with their purchase. It's like Rebekah says, buying things gives us a warm glow and makes us feel all is right in the world. Anyone knows this who has struggled financially and then gotten enough of a breather to buy something the heart desires.

That, incidentally, is why some studies show the American poor remain poor. When they gain a windfall, instead of having the ability to deny themselves (and, let's face it, their life is often nothing but denial in all its forms), they spend it by treating themselves. It's totally natural and understandable, but it's also fruitless. But I digress ...

Rebekah begins to become happy when she takes the very difficult step of choosing relationships over things. We love our things. Our things make us feel good. Surrounding ourselves with them gives a sense of comfort and security (although that is mostly an illusion; who are we kidding?).

A thing can't love you back, however. And ultimately, God created us for relationship. Loving relationship with one another here on earth, relationships that imitate the free, faithful, total, and fruitful love we find in the Holy Trinity, and ultimately relationship with Him in heaven for our eternity: This our purpose and the last is our end.

Being chained to things -- to mere material things that will end up in someone's thrift shop, gathering rust, eaten by moths, and ultimately rotting in some landfill somewhere -- is slavery. Being yoked to another person is true liberation, for in it we are free to recognize and become our best selves as givers and not takers. Consumerism and materialism encourage selfishness and everything that serves self. Relationship encourages giving and sacrifice, and it is these things that make us truly, fully human and thus free.

What do you think?

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