Sunday, April 14, 2019

The Fisher King

SPOILER ALERT! The plot will be discussed.

This 1991 film from director Terry Gilliam, is a redemption tale. The Fisher King, in Arthurian legend, usually refers to a knight who requires the healing of a physical wound, but which symbolizes the salvation of the soul. This movie shows how the two main characters and the women in their lives are on quests to acquire their individual Holy Grails. The story also addresses the issue of homelessness as it relates to the neglect of the poor in an affluent society.

The film starts with the theme song of shock jock Jack Lucas (Jeff Bridges, in a terrific performance), which is “Hit the Road Jack.” The song reflects his unsympathetic attitude toward his listeners, but eventually describes how he drops out of show business after feeling responsible for a tragedy. The movie is prescient in depicting how the manipulative power of the media can do harm. The first shot includes a closeup of Jack’s mouth as he speaks into a radio microphone, which emphasizes this theme.

The first person who calls into Jack’s show is a woman who speaks hesitantly and says her husband is driving her crazy finishing her thoughts, which is what Jack sarcastically does. The husband is probably being driven “crazy” by the way the woman speaks, showing how people are at each other's throats because of communication issues. (The movie uses the “crazy” theme to show that irrationality takes on many forms). When the woman says Jack has hit the problem on the head, he says somebody should hit her on the head. So, the form of entertainment he provides is one of degradation. He exploits scandals. But he makes a good observation about the desire in people to achieve notoriety, even if it is an infamous kind. A woman calls in to complain about his comments. Jack points out her hypocrisy when he says she had sex with a senator in the parking lot of Sea World and now wants privacy.

Jack receives a call from Edwin Melnick, who has phoned in before, and now says he saw a woman he was attracted to at an exclusive, upscale spot. He apparently has been lonely for a long time and has tried to meet women. Jack has turned his sad situation into a sideshow, manipulating him into disastrous encounters. Jack, as shock jocks do, attacks everybody, and tells him not to deal with yuppies, who only marry their own kind, causing mental deficiencies due to “inbreeding.” Jack says, “They’re not human.” He calls them evil and says “they must be stopped … It’s us or them.” Edwin says in a quiet voice, “Okay, Jack.” Little does Jack realize what he has set into motion. His sign-off song is “I Got the Power,” which drives home the force inherent in having the big microphone. Jack ends his show talking about having sex with the teenager of his choice, which is not only off-putting, it’s illegal, but implies the rules don’t apply to the very powerful. He finishes his program, akin to the narcissistic bragging of any current day politician, by saying, “Thank God I’m me.”

Off the air, Jack is praised by his agent, Lou Rosen (David Hyde Pierce), in Jack’s limo. Lou says Jack is in demand for a TV job. A beggar knocks on the window of the luxurious car, highlighting the huge discrepancy in the economic situations of the two men. Jack says a couple of bucks won’t make a difference anyway, without thinking that maybe a more equitable allocation of wealth added with compassion might. The scene shows Jack’s pessimism about the human condition.

Back at his condo, Jack, looking in a mirror, stressing his narcissism, says how he hates his cheeks. He is now concerned about his looks because the next day he will be filmed for the first time, and he will be a “voice with a body.” His girlfriend must feel like a confined possession because she says she would like to get out for a change. He bemoans the fact that she doesn’t seem supportive of how important the next day is for him. She tries to cut his ego down to size by saying he’s only doing a sitcom, “not defining pi.” He says he thought his biography should be entitled, “Jack Lucas: The Face Behind the Voice,” but now it will change to “The Face and the Voice,” or just “Jack!” The exclamation point emphasizes his preoccupation with himself.
He dances in his upper story apartment, after going over his lines, and declaring that he’s “got this.” Literally and figuratively on top of the world, Jack then experiences the bomb drop that decimates his life and forces him to confront the repercussions of the reckless use of his power. On the TV he hears his own voice that ignited his listener to violence. Edwin Melnick went to that yuppie bar, an after-work place called “Babbitt’s” (a Sinclair Lewis reference about greed?). He opened fire with a shotgun and killed seven people before shooting himself. Jack looks on horrified as the newscaster says that Melnick was a lonely, invisible man, who went to what was then the social network, the airwaves, “looking for friendship, and finding only pain and tragedy.”

There is a jump forward of three years, and now Jack is sitting at the back of a video store in a rundown part of the city, looking as seedy as the beggar he arrogantly dismissed. He hasn’t changed his negative attitude as he says, “Garbage. People are garbage,” as he reads a tabloid. He will later discover that there are those worth saving among those that people have discarded like trash. It is interesting that although he left one source of media, radio, he latched onto another, video, not quite being able to divorce himself from the entertainment business. Anne (Mercedes Ruehl, winning a supporting actress Oscar for this role) wonders if he’ll do any work, as she sees him reach for some booze, calling it sarcastically his “Breakfast of Champions.” But, he does not want to work because he is resistant to come into contact with others, possibly afraid of social interaction based on his past. Camera shots show people through Jack’s perspective, as faces look distorted, showing how he sees everyone as grotesque. Anne says she loves him, but he is in one of his “emotional abyss” moods, and when he says he hates desperate people, she corrects him by saying he hates people in general. His devaluing of individuals may be a defense mechanism to lessen the impact of his having hurt others.

As they watch a TV show and Anne laughs, he looks grim, and says it’s not funny. He says he watches it to show him how unfunny it is, because he says that the country has no appreciation of quality, and that makes him feel good that he never was in a sitcom. If he was famous because of starring in one, it would mean that he was “not really talented,” which would be a huge blow to someone who is so self-involved. It turns out that the show is the one he was supposed to star in, and he is rationalizing his fall from fame, trying to not feel the pain of that loss. He is still selfish, continuing to only be concerned about his own situation. Anne correctly calls him “sick,” and “self-absorbed.” He hasn’t made any attempts at trying to fix the devastating effects of the shooting on him.

Jack wanders off drunk in the rain. He sees a rich guy with his son as the man is accosted by a beggar, just as Jack once was. The boy gives Jack a Pinocchio doll. Does this gift signify that Jack is lying to himself? Does he have to gain some insight to get out of his self-imposed exile? Jack talks to the doll about how Nietzsche said there are those who are destined for greatness, like, Jack says, Walt Disney (which connects to the doll), and Adolf Hitler (the Nazis appropriated their view of Nietzsche’s works to advance their movement). Both men dealt to a degree in escape from reality, although for benign and evil reasons. The rest of us are what Nietzsche described as “the bungled and the botched.” He says that the majority of people are “the expendable masses,” who “get pushed in front of trains, take poison aspirin, get gunned down in Dairy Queens.” The “gunned down” reference connects to the restaurant massacre, and he seems to now be identifying himself with those who are “teased” into thinking they can be great, but can’t achieve greatness. He asks the Pinocchio doll if he ever feels as if “you’re being punished for your sins?” Of course, Pinocchio was, for his lies and, for quite a while, being denied the chance of becoming a real boy. In a way, Jack is incomplete as a human being, too, and has been psychologically punished for his sins. But he is just bemoaning his experience, not learning from it.

Jack, not being able to deal with his failure and guilt, straps concrete to his feet, goes to city’s river edge, and is ready to drown himself. Local vigilante types drive up to the garbage-strewn area and consider Jack to be part of the vagrant population that has befouled their city. They ironically associate Jack with the same element of society he turned his back on. They pour gasoline on him and are ready to burn him like trash, like one of the garbage people Jack railed against. Parry (Robin Williams, in an Oscar-nominated performance) shows up appearing like a comic version of Don Quixote. (His name sounds like a fencing term, which means to deflect a blow, and could refer to his adopting his knighthood persona as a mental defense mechanism. Also, as IMDb points out, his name can refer to the knight Percival who sought the Holy Grail, or Parsifal, the fool, who brought redemption to the Fisher King, Amfortas, just as Parry helps save Jack). Parry is a street person who comically uses a trash can cover for a shield. He is accompanied by other vagrants, one of whom holds a lug wrench which looks like a cross, adding a religious crusader element to their actions. They begin to sing “I like New York in June/How about you?” It is an ironic song given their predicament, but they are positive-sounding lyrics to help deal with their fate. Here, Jack encounters a man who has also been harmed by life, and Parry, too, has been exiled from the world, but into a realm of fantasy to escape his pain. Parry says there are “three things in this world that you need: Respect for all kinds of life; a nice bowel movement on a regular basis; and a navy blazer.” It sounds silly, but he is just saying that people must care about others first, and then the individual just requires warmth and a decent diet. The lesson is that striving after other things amounts to seeking excesses. Parry is able to sling a ball at one of the attackers, knocking him down. He ties up the man with tape as the other runs off. Parry has rescued Jack from physical harm from himself and others, and later eventually aids in saving him psychologically. Jack says he needs a drink and Perry says humorously that he knows a place with great ambiance.

They go to an outside refuge for street people. Many of those gathered there seem mentally disabled, left to survive on their own. There is a fire burning, looking a bit like a surrealist inferno. The sleeve of Jack’s coat catches fire and he waves it with such force that the flames die out. The response of the area’s denizens is to applaud, like it was theater, so absurd is life to them. They force alcohol on Jack and he passes out, awakening in Parry’s underground “domicile,” a building boiler room (a reference to hell, as are the many inclusions of fire, suggesting the two characters are in a version of Hades). Parry wants to give Jack some food, saying his guest’s stomach must be like a “tabula rasa,” which shows Parry is an intelligent, witty fellow. Parry has auditory hallucinations, engaging in conversations with imaginary “little people” who he says sent him to Jack. He tells them he knows “He’s the one,” referring to Jack, which in knighthood terms, means his “champion,” the one to help Parry. Parry holds up a self-fashioned sword (made from metal from a Ford vehicle, showing how discards can be transformed into something more significant) and declares himself a “knight” on a special quest. He says he and the little people serve God and Parry is the lord’s “janitor,” a sort of refuse superhero acting as an agent of the deity.

Parry says the little people told him to look at a specific issue of an architecture magazine. In a picture there is a trophy, which Parry says is the Holy Grail, “God’s symbol of divine grace,” sitting on a bookshelf. The Holy Grail quest can represent a desire to return to nobility, purity, and salvation. Doubting Jack, who thinks Parry is a benign psychotic, questions Parry’s belief, saying, “Some billionaire has the Holy Grail in his library on Fifth Avenue.” Parry carries forward the joke by saying who would think one would find anything “divine on the Upper East Side,” of New York, since the modern world is in such a state of decline. He tells Jack he can’t get the Grail himself because “he’s” out there. Parry is referring to the Red Knight, an imaginary adversary, which represents the horror from Parry’s trauma blocking his quest for salvation. (IMDb notes that in medieval mythology Parsifal battled the Red Knight, which, like in this story, is a psychological projection of the questing knight). Jack has to leave, and Parry says he shouldn’t be a stranger and they can get together and “rummage,” which sounds like an odd activity for two people to share. But, symbolically, that is exactly what these two men must do, dig into their psyches to unearth their respective happier selves.

On his way out of the boiler room, Jack encounters the apartment superintendent (Al Fann) who says he allows Parry to stay there out of compassion for his tragedy. We find out that fate has brought Jack and Parry together, because Parry’s wife was killed in the yuppie club by Melnick, the man who Jack had spoken to on the radio. Back at the video store, Anne shows her concern for Jack. He doesn’t tell her about his possible suicide attempt. She tells him that she loves him, realizing he doesn't yet have the capacity to say it back, adding “although it wouldn’t break your jaw to try.” He is thinking about Parry now, his guilt magnified by coming into contact with someone who suffered from his actions. He asks Anne if she knows what the Holy Grail is, and she says it was “Jesus’s juice glass.” When asked if she believes in God, she says yes, she was brought up a Catholic, but believes man was made in the devil’s image because “most of the shit that happens comes from man.” She feels women came from God, because God creates, as do women by giving birth to babies. Women are attracted more to the devil, the bad boy, because saints are boring. Which may explain why she is with Jack. She says that the purpose of life is for men and women to get married so the devil and God can get together and work things out. Anne may seem common, but her insight here hits the mark because both Jack and Parry must participate in battles between their inner angels and demons.

Jack returns to Parry’s basement dwelling and encounters the superintendent again, who tells Jack that Parry was in a mental hospital at one point. Parry’s real name is Henry Sagan, and he taught medieval history at Hunter College (which explains his fixation on the Grail story). He didn’t speak for a year, and then invented his Parry persona. Jack looks at a document that has “The Fisher King” written on it, noting the essay deals with a “mythic journey” which is what Parry feels he must undertake. Parry and his wife lived in that building, and the manager let him stay in the basement after getting out of the mental facility. Jack looks at a picture of Parry’s wife as the manager tells him how Parry was very much in love with her.

Back at Anne’s place, Jack looks at the newspaper clippings that contain headlines about Jack’s radio program and the slayings. He says to her that he is cursed, being brought into contact with a man who was damaged by the shootings. He seems to be searching for a way to “just pay the fine and go home.” He still is self-centered, because his primary concern is to end his torment, but the fact that he has guilty feelings is a sign that he can be redeemed.

Jack goes looking for Parry. When he finds him, Parry brings Jack along as he follows a woman, Lydia Sinclair (Amanda Plummer), who is very awkward, bumping into a person, and knocking over paperback books at an outside stand. (IMDb notes that in Holy Grail legend, the Sinclair clan is mentioned, which thus ties Lydia to Parry’s salvation). Parry, although attracted to Lydia, says of her fiction reading, “She’s into trash, but what are you going to do?” This line is funny, but ironically foreshadows that she may be able to care for someone like Parry who lives among the city’s trash. He knows she eats dumplings on Wednesdays, and they see her dropping them in her lap. (Parry presses himself against the restaurant's window to observe Lydia, upsetting upscale-looking customers, which stresses the differences between the have and have-nots). Parry may like Lydia because she is, like him, an outsider. Jack gives Parry some money, a sort of easy way out of making amends. Parry sees it as a generous act, but it’s not what he wants or needs. He gives the money to another street person, which upsets Jack, but which again shows Parry’s caring nature.

Parry takes Jack to the billionaire’s house, which looks, appropriately, like a medieval castle, and where Parry believes the Holy Grail now resides. Jack tells him there is no Holy Grail, but Parry says the Crusades were not just a papal publicity stunt. Jack warns him it will be dangerous for Parry to try to break into the house. He keeps calling Parry derogatory names, such as “moron,” but Parry only sees the good in Jack, thrilled that he wants to protect Parry. He says to Jack, “You’re a real human being. You’re a friend,” which is exactly the opposite of what Jack feels about himself, since he labels himself “scum.” Parry is offering healing words for the damaged Jack.

Jack tells Parry that there are no little people, and starts to tell him that he is making up his story, and used to teach at Hunter College. Parry is not ready to have his protective delusion stripped from him, and he shouts and writhes on the ground. He has a vision of the fire-exuding Red Knight because he is the symbol of his trauma, his hell, that keeps him from facing reality. But, Parry sees the Red Knight turn around and retreat, so Parry feels that the creature is afraid of Jack, who Parry has charged with helping him fight what frightens him. Parry runs off supposedly after the Red Knight. Jack follows him, showing how he does care about Parry. When he catches up to him in Central Park up on a rock, Parry tells him about the Red Knight. Jack, ready to call it quits, looks up to the sky and says that he wants to let it be known he gave Parry some money. He appears to be talking to God. Parry has a quizzical look on his face. He is the man who talks to imaginary little people, but asks Jack who is he talking to, which in an irreverent way, lumps belief in God with the delusions of the mentally ill.

There is screaming by a man that interrupts their discussion. He has been knocked over by affluent types (again class disparity is stressed) riding horses. Jack wants to let it go, but Parry, again modeling decency for Jack, says Mother Teresa has retired, so they have to pitch in. The man (Michael Jeter), in response to Jack’s leaning toward leaving, says don’t worry, he’ll be fine bleeding in horse excrement, adding “How very Gandhi-esque of you.” He is able to be funny despite his circumstances. They take him to a hospital emergency room crammed with the casualties of society, where Parry tries to fight the misery of the wounded and demented by singing. (The shot of Jack holding the man reminds one of the Pieta by Michelangelo, with Jack the unlikely nurturing figure he must become). The man they rescued says he was a cabaret singer, (another instance of the need for harmony symbolized by referencing music) but has fallen on hard times since all of his friends have died, which probably refers to the AIDS epidemic. His story points to more evidence of the neglect the nation had towards marginal groups in America during the early HIV era.
Jack, still sticking with Parry, hoping to pay his “fine,” waits with him for Lydia in crowded Grand Central Station, where the homeless are shoved to the sides of the building as the rest of the citizens rush past them, literally and figuratively leaving them behind. The commuters are doing what Jack is trying to do, drop some money in the cups of beggars to dispel their societal guilt. When a coin misses the cup of a war veteran in a wheelchair, Jack says the donor didn’t even look at the man. The veteran says, “He’s paying so he don’t have to look.” By donating a little money, the passerby purchases an exemption from having to face the inequities in society that might cause him to feel he must do something about them. The veteran says that he is like a “traffic light,” because someone at work will think twice about defying his condescending boss when he realizes his life is better than the crippled bum on the street. The thrust here is that the penalty for not compromising oneself in the capitalist game is severe.
Parry sees Lydia in the train station crowd and she is preceded by several nuns (hinting at her saving powers?). She passes by him and then, in Parry’s mind, all of the people begin to dance a waltz, showing how, to him, she has magical powers to bring people together. The usually clumsy Lydia glides effortlessly through the crowd. For Parry and the injured cabaret singer in the park, music symbolizes the need to bring everyone together to remedy a discordant world. The harmony is transient, as the clock strikes five pm, and the spell is broken, like midnight in the Cinderella tale, and there is noisy, frenetic movement again. Meanwhile, in a scene that is in counterpoint to Parry’s romantic daydream, Annie sits alone at a dinner table waiting for Jack. She complains to an empty chair, which is supposed to contain Jack, about how she has had it with his lack of being there for her. (There are several times in the film where people speak to no one, showing the need to connect to others).

It’s nighttime, and Jack and Parry are back in Central Park. Jack is worried that they can get killed there at night. Parry, in contrast, is free from fear, and gets naked, looks at the night spy, and hopes to bust up clouds by staring at them. Parry again appears liberated and Jack is full of negativity. Jack starts to leave in frustration, venting into the air about Parry’s behavior. Parry asks him again who is he talking to, as the line between being crazy and sane is blurred. Jack submits to lying down, but stays clothed. However, he still goes to the dark side by hypothesizing about how they both will be murdered, and the press will note he was next to a naked guy, which will increase the sales of his biography since the media loves sleazy situations (another example of Jack’s self-absorption). Parry notes Jack’s pessimism, with a bit of an understatement, when he says, “you don’t seem like a happy camper.”

Parry then relates his version of the Fisher King story. He says it starts with the King as a boy in the forest to spend a night alone to prove his courage that would make him fit to be a regent. He gets a vision of the Holy Grail surrounded by fire, the “symbol of God’s divine grace.” He hears a voice that tells him, “You shall be keeper of the Grail so that it may heal the hearts of men.” Unfortunately, the boy was “blinded” by thinking about a life “filled with power and glory and beauty.” He feels “invincible,” like a god, and reaches into the fire (there it is again) that houses the Grail. The Grail then vanishes, and he is burned by the fire. As he became older, the wound grew deeper. Life for him lost its “reason,” and he has no faith in anyone, even himself. He couldn’t experience love. “He began to die.” A fool wanders in, not realizing he was speaking to a king, and asks what does the man want. The king says he needs some water. The fool takes a cup, fills it with water, and the king drinks. The king finds that it heals his wound, and realizes the cup he holds is the Holy Grail. He asks the fool how did he find it, and the fool says he does not know. He only knew that the King was thirsty. The story could relate to Jack, since he was arrogant and only sought worldly gain for himself, and Parry could be considered the “fool” who saves him. But, in the movie, the good deed must be reciprocated, and Jack must also help Parry. The story points to the healing power of compassion.

Parry says he heard the Fisher King story at a lecture once, and he starts to say it was at Hunter College. Just as he about to have a breakthrough to reality, he imagines seeing the Red Knight again, spouting that hellfire, which scares him back into the protection of his mental fortress. Jack diverts him by asking why he hasn’t asked Lydia for a date. Parry says he hasn’t earned the right, which fits in with the knightly code of chivalry he has adopted. Jack says that she can help him get the Grail because the love of a woman “keeps you going, gives you strength, and makes you feel like you can do anything.” Parry asks Jack is that what his girlfriend does for him, and Jack says “sure.” Parry can see Jack is not sincere in his expressed happiness, so he recalls the Pinocchio doll that Jack gave him, by pretending to show a growing a long nose, implying that Jack is lying. But, Jack here at least acknowledges the possibility of the power of love.

Jack tells Anne that if he gets Parry and Lydia together things might turn out better for him. Jack has upped his quest for redemption by exchanging his money offer for an attempt at matchmaking. He tries to lure Lydia to the video store by calling her and saying she has won free rentals, even though she tells him she does not have a tape player. She hangs up, so Jack sends the cabaret singer from the park to deliver a singing telegram that she should claim her prize. His thick mustache makes him look like one unattractive drag queen as he loudly sings his song, doing a hilarious Ethel Merman turn, at the office where Lydia works. We again have music as the agent used to bring people together.
Jack has Parry pretend he works at the video store. Lydia is definitely kooky as she is overly critical that she only gets ten free rentals and then knocks over lots of tapes. Parry tries to help her, but she only wants Ethel Merman musicals (which shows she, too, secretly seeks to find a romantic dance partner. The love of music is the key - pun intended - that the outsiders share to connect them with others). Lydia likes Anne’s nails, and Jack gets her to promise to do Lydia’s nails that evening so that there is a chance for her to get close to Parry.

While Parry has some food at Anne’s place, he says that a man would be “crazy” not to want to settle down with her. (He, the supposed insane person, comments on the irrational acts of others). Anne’s response is that “most men are,” which refers to Jack and other males. Anne greets Lydia who walks around the apartment looking ill at ease, touching things, not able to be still. She just seems out of place in a social situation. As Anne does Lydia’s nails, she asks if she is seeing anyone, and Lydia says, “Does it look like I am seeing anyone?” Her response is almost hostile, implying it’s obvious that she isn’t involved, which reveals her lack of self-worth. While Anne prepares Lydia for the “date,” Jack is cleaning up Parry, putting on him some of his own clothes, which he comically shortens by using staples. Parry asks about Jack’s feelings toward Anne, so in a way he is reciprocating Jack’s efforts by urging him toward a committed relationship with Anne. Lydia says to Anne that some people are just meant to be alone, which can be a rationalization that justifies an isolationist lifestyle. She says she doesn’t know how to have a conversation, but Anne, helping her gain confidence, argues that is what they are having.

On the double date, we find out that Lydia works at a romance novel publisher, which explains why she checks those types of books out. She calls them trashy, as did Parry earlier, but now he says that “there’s nothing trashy about romance.” He says that in romance there is passion, imagination, and beauty. And he says that one finds some “wonderful things in the trash,” which he should know about as he has gone through a great deal of refuse. He holds up a tiny chair he made from a soda cap and bobby pins, illustrating how artists take from the everyday and turn the stuff of life into art. Jack earlier said that people are “garbage,” as if they should be discarded, and then he finds Parry whose life Jack  has trashed and who he discovers is worth salvaging.

They have dinner at a Chinese restaurant, since Lydia loves dumplings. Of course Lydia drops the food, and also spills water, coughs on the plates, and belches. Parry grabs a dumpling with his hand, and also drops stuff, some of which he appears to be doing to mimic Lydia’s actions, to make her feel more accepted. The two even play with the food. Anne whispers that the two social misfits are “made for each other. It’s scary, but true.” Parry sings the song that Groucho Marx originated about “Lydia the Tattooed Lady,” and the reference to the absurdist humor of the Marx Brothers fits in well with these misfits. As Parry sings, Jack acts more affectionately toward Anne, which maybe shows that helping Parry indeed is also having a positive effect on Jack. Again, music is the positive force that joins people in harmony, as we see the camera pull back and others in the restaurant listen to Parry, becoming part of the musical moment.

The two couples pair off. Jack and Anne are hysterical, laughing at the way the other two played hockey with their food. Anne surprises Jack by quoting the Latin phrase that translates to “love conquers all.” She quickly qualifies it by saying that it doesn’t apply to them. She says that she is very proud of him because he did something good for another person. Jack is complimentary for a change as he tells her that she was “great” and says that he is grateful for her help. They kiss, laugh, and go up to the apartment.

Lydia is so down on relationships that she states unfortunately what many women have experienced. She predicts that Parry, after walking her home, will come up to her apartment, they will get comfortable, he will sleep over, but then will be distant in the morning. They will exchange phone numbers, but he will never call. She will initially be elated but then will feel like dirt. She says why should she put herself through all of this anguish, and runs off. Parry goes after her and says he had no intention of going to her place because he wants something longer lasting than one night. He confesses that he grew fond of her by observing her daily routines, which shows he is willing to put in the time to have a lasting relationship. She sees that he is not just looking for a one-night stand and gives him a kiss.
But the thought of actually being in love again triggers memories of how he lost his last love. The Red Knight appears, the specter that tries to scare him away from any attempt at facing the horror of his past and reintegrating Parry with his real identity, Henry Sagan, so he can move forward. There are bloody images of his wife being killed (the red of the blood is mirrored in the color of the Red Knight), and Parry runs through the streets, fleeing from the memory of that terrible night. His mental illness is depicted in an image of the arms of the oversized borrowed jacket flapping around him, resembling a straitjacket. He flees to the same spot where he met Jack. The vigilantes show up with the shadow of the Red Knight behind them. As one whips out a knifes, Parry substitutes the Red Knight slashing at him with his sword. The men beat him, and Parry offers no resistance as he wants to die rather than relive the horror of the massacre.

Jack feels that he has been released from his guilt based on what he has done for Parry. He calls his agent, who says that Jack can get back into radio if that’s what he wants. Anne is thrilled that he will be working again, and thinks that they can look for a better place to live together. But Jack still hasn’t learned the lesson of true altruism. He still views life as a way to benefit himself. He saw his time with Anne as just a halfway house experience, a temporary place for him to crash, literally and figuratively. He used her and now wants to be on his own to concentrate on his career again, “now that everything’s taken care of,” except for Anne’s feelings. She loves him and is devastated.

Jack then gets a call from the hospital because he gave Parry his wallet to pay for the dinner. Although Parry was beaten, the real problem is that he has fallen back into his catatonic state. The doctor says he will be transferred to the mental institution after the hospital discharges him. Jack does try to make an effort to say he is family, but the doctor says that might allow Parry to be discharged to him, but Jack would not be equipped to care for him. Anne says that Lydia found her prince and now he’s fallen into a coma. It’s sort of a gender reversal of the “Sleeping Beauty” story. She says with bitterness, “some women have no luck,” which includes her. She walks away and Jack says, “I’ll call you,” the phrase that Lydia notes men say when they have no intention of getting in touch.

Jack is back in his arrogant capitalistic saddle, doing a radio show, and he is negotiating other projects, as we wear his theme song, “I Got the Power,” showing how music can also expose the egoism that separates instead of joining people. After exiting a limo, the cabaret singer from the park recognizes Jack and calls out to him, a kind of reminder of how Jack has discarded those that helped him during his tough time. A TV executive (John de Lancie) pitches Jack a tasteless “comedy” about the homeless that will not be depressing, he says, but funny and upbeat. It will have “wacky and wise’ homeless people who are “happy” because “they love the freedom, the adventure” of their situation. So, the thrust here is to cash in on those who are destitute, and make it look okay to exploit them by falsely showing how much they actually have going for them. Jack has seen the homeless, and he knows that they are not happy people. He is so upset about the project that he runs out of the office.

Jack goes to Parry’s boiler room abode and looks at Parry’s book about the Holy Grail. He picks up the Pinocchio doll and brings it to the mental hospital where Parry is a patient. Lydia is there, but doesn’t see Jack, as she talks to an attendant about items she has brought, indicating that she has been a regular visitor to see Parry. Jack places the doll on the bed near the catatonic Parry. Jack argues with himself even though he appears to be talking to the unresponsive Parry (another example of someone not able to converse with another, but here, it’s like a soliloquy, as Jack tries to deal with his internal conflicts). Jack says things have been great, he’s getting a cable show, and has a gorgeous girlfriend. He says he’s not going to do it, he’s not “God” and can’t magically fix things. He is, of course, talking about getting the cup that Parry thought is the Holy Grail. He tries to convince himself that many people have problems but still survive, and it’s easier for Parry to just sit there, in “his comfortable little coma.” But, if he wants to know what hard is, Jack says, “Try being me.” Despite his regained success, it feels empty to him now that he has seen the suffering of others that he helped bring about. He admits to feeling like he has “nothing,’ because what he does have is all superficial. He finally has his epiphany. He says if he does get the cup he’ll not be doing it because he “felt cursed or guilty or responsible.” Those are selfish motives. He says if he does it, “it’s because I want to do this for you.” The unselfish act is the one that is truly a worthy one.
The next image is the castle-like home of the rich person, the one, in a Robin Hood-like act, who must have his treasure taken to help the less fortunate. Jack is wearing Parry’s coat and hat as he participates in the knightly scaling of the fortress. He confronts a stained glass window that resembles the Red Knight, as we hear the horse winnowing, showing how Jack’s life is, to use the musical metaphor, now in sync with that of Parry’s. He even comments that he hears the horse, showing how he is sharing Parry’s hallucination. As he grabs the cup, he notices that the old man who owns the place appears to have taken some pills and may have fallen into a stupor or even has died. Does the man who held the power have to sleep in order for the victim of society to awake?  Jack goes to the mental ward and puts the cup in Parry’s hands, and eventually falls asleep at the foot of the bed. Parry’s hands start to move, stroking the cup. He opens his eyes, and Jack, who has his head turned away from Parry, also has his eyes open. They have become awake both spiritually as well as physically. Parry says he had a dream about being married to a beautiful woman, and asks, “Can I miss her now?”  So his unconscious, repressed past, is now breaking through to his conscious state, and he is ready to now deal with his loss. He thanks Jack for making it possible.

The next day, Lydia visits the mental hospital and is astonished to find Parry’s bed empty. He has been resurrected and he is leading the other patients, in what else, a song, spreading his melodic happiness to others. He and Lydia embrace, and Jack takes his place, leading the group, showing how they all are joined by the music and lyrics. Parry and Lydia’s love is contagious, and Jack realizes he truly loves Anne, now knowing that standing by someone when they are suffering is the real expression of love. After he tells her that he loves her, she smacks him for putting her through it. But then they passionately kiss, knocking over the videos, mirroring Lydia and Parry’s first encounter.

The film concludes with Jack and Parry in the park at night, both now naked, liberated from their mental prisons, looking at the sky. Jack asks, per their previous nighttime park encounter, if he is making the clouds move. Parry asks if Jack is “crazy,” which is funny given Parry’s history, and says it’s due to the wind, of course. His fanciful life as Parry has now mingled with the real-life experience of Henry Sagan. The film ends with, what else, the two of them singing, “How about You?” They look at the skyline of New York and there is a magical movie ending as the lights of the city illuminate and fireworks burst in the air as the fearful fire has been replaced by joyful illumination.

After a week off, the next film is Charly.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

6 Film Class Movies

SPOILER ALERT! Plots will be discussed.

I thought I would provide some brief comments about six out of the ten films recently studied at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute. I will include observations made by other students and our instructor.
Imitation of Life

This film directed by Douglas Sirk and released in 1959 is a melodrama, but it uses the so-called “woman’s film” type of soap opera format to explore themes relating to female roles in society and racial bigotry. Widow Lora Meredith (Lana Turner) befriends an African American woman, Annie Johnson (Juanita Moore) who has a daughter, Sarah Jane, who has light skin. Annie is poor, and Lora invites her and her child to stay with her. Annie takes care of Lora’s place and looks after her daughter, Susie. Annie wanted to be an actress, but instead enables the white Lora to look for work as a model and actress. They go through life as family members, and Sarah Jane and Susie are like sisters. The film shows that when the outside world does not impose its racist sanctions, people of diverse backgrounds can live together in harmony. But, those vicious outside forces find a way to invade and poison the family’s sanctuary.

Lora encounters sexism in her attempt to forge a career, but she defies attempts by a theater agent to sexually objectify her, and rejects a marriage proposal that would have conditionally thwarted her desire to be an actress. She is forceful enough to convince a successful playwright to make changes in a play, and she becomes a Broadway star. But, she will not settle for a marriage to the playwright because she doesn't love the man.

Sarah Jane represents a character who knows that the society rewards people for being white and punishes those who are black. Even as a young girl, she shows racial self-hatred, since she can pass for being white, and thus receives the advantages of being accepted into the white culture, while viewing as an insider the hatred shown toward African Americans. When Annie shows up at school as her mother, Sarah Jane feels humiliated. Annie expresses her anger to Lora by saying, “How do you explain to your child that you were born to be hurt?” Annie is not an Uncle Tom character since she does not submerge her racial pride. She recognizes the injustice around her, and points out to Lora that even though she is grateful for Lora’s kindness, she is still viewed as a maid, even though privately the two act as equals in their friendship.

After Sarah Jane grows up, she maintains her “white” identity, and even has a white boyfriend. The film shows the danger that results from the illogical ignorance of bigotry when the boyfriend beats up Sarah Jane when he discovers that she is black. The culture is so prejudicial that at one point Sarah Jane is made to feel that she would rather die than be seen as a black person. Sarah Jane eventually runs away and gets jobs as a sexy chorus girl. When Annie finds her, she is subjected to the humiliation of her own daughter introducing Annie as her former nanny. Sarah Jane does finally seem to realize how badly she treated her mother, who loved her, but not soon enough, since Annie dies shortly thereafter.

The last scene of the film is especially meaningful. Lora stages an elaborate funeral for Annie, which, ironically, allows Annie to finally become the “star” of a theatrical-like spectacle, but only in death. Sarah Jane shows up at the funeral, and she is crying and remorseful. In the end, the three women, Lora, her daughter Susie, and Sarah Jane are together to comfort each other, without the need for any male presence.

There was a complaint by one class member that the movie perpetuated racial stereotypes. As a rebuttal, it was noted that the film was of its time, and it actually was exposing bigotry, not advocating it.


The title of this movie, released in 1983, and directed by Robert Bresson, means “the money.” The film seems to suggest that the upper classes, because of their elevated level of privilege, commit acts that have disastrous repercussions for those less fortunate. (This theme is at the center of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby). The characters are unemotional here, with actions clipped in an elliptical style allowing no time for human responses. It’s as if they are just parts in an elaborate mechanism, stuck in an assembly line, like Charlie Chaplin’s character in Modern Times, their humanity drained from them. There are numerous shots of doors opening and closing on people, placing individuals in figurative cells, and later, actual ones, as the monetary-obsessed society imprisons them in inescapable situations.

The plot revolves around counterfeit money passed on by two upper class youths that eventually go to a young man, by way of a photo shop manager, named Yvon (Christian Patey), who is delivering oil. When Yvon unknowingly uses the bills at a restaurant, he is arrested. He is not jailed, but loses his job. Along the way, there are scams, perjury, and bribery so that the wealthy and business people escape responsibility for their actions. In need of cash, Yvon participates in a robbery, is caught, and is incarcerated. While in prison, he learns of his daughter’s death, and that his wife is leaving him. Yvon has a failed suicide attempt. After being released, Yvon has lost his soul and murders hotel keepers, and even a kind woman, who gives him a place to live, and the people living in her house. Yvon then turns himself in and confesses to his crimes.

One could argue that Yvon’s violence is an attempt at freeing these people from their afflictions and social prisons. Another way of viewing the violence is by considering what happens in Shakespeare’s history plays, where it takes a long time, and a great deal of tragedy, to recover from the cycle of death that follows the killing of King Richard II. Here, the selfish acts of those rich boys, one might label their infractions as sins, start a train of misery that seem to require numerous sacrifices before the suffering stops.

Desert Hearts

This 1985 movie takes place in 1959 in Reno, Nevada. The film is one of the first that was made by women, and it daringly focuses on a lesbian love affair. In fact, this low-key story is in the forefront of positively presenting alternative attitudes about women and their sexuality.

Vivian (Helen Shaver), an English literature professor at Columbia University, arrives at a Reno ranch to get a divorce after twelve years of marriage. She says at one point that her husband isn’t really that upset about the divorce, which suggests that there may have been something about Vivian that hindered the marriage from being viable. She tells her lawyer that she does not seek alimony and has always supported herself, which paints her as an independent woman, which was atypical for the story’s time period. Her clothing and demeanor present her as a reserved thirty-five-year-old woman, and she doesn’t seem to relax until she is alone in her room, where she removes her confining attire.

The woman who runs the ranch is Frances (Audra Lindley), who had a relationship with a man that produced a son. In 1959, a child outside of marriage was not socially acceptable, so this is another instance of nonconformist behavior. Frances has looked after Cay (Patricia Charbonneau), her lover’s daughter, who works at a casino and lives on the ranch. She is ten years younger than Vivian, and the first time she sees Cay, the young woman is driving her car backwards, symbolically showing how she runs counter to accepted rules. At the casino, she has a friend, Silver (Andra Akers), who is soon to be married to Joe (Anthony Ponzini). However, Silver has no problem kissing Cay on the mouth, and later shares a bubble bath with her. Joe walks in on them and seems perfectly okay with what is going on, and even says he would like to know what it’s like to be a beautiful woman. With Silver and Joe we have what looks like a bisexual couple, another daring depiction, even for a 1985 movie.

When Vivian drops some mail off at Cay’s place, she sees that she has a woman in her bed. Cay is not a closeted lesbian, but courageously has let it be known about her sexual preference. The prejudice against Cay is demonstrated when Vivian learns that Cay was expelled from college for what was considered at the time to be “unnatural acts.” Cay and Vivian get to know each other, and Cay tells Vivian she is attracted to her. Vivian doesn’t want to admit even to herself that she feels the same way, but Cay has stirred Vivian’s true sexual urges. Symbolically this discovery is shown when the two are in a storm, implying that the rain is washing away the arid loneliness of Vivian’s world, and allowing loving emotions to flow. Vivian, unsure of her feelings, gets into the car, placing a barrier between her and Cay. But, she opens the window of the vehicle, figuratively giving Cay a window of opportunity, and Cay reaches in and kisses Vivian.

They soon become lovers. Cay seems secure to be herself in the desert community, detached from any large populated area, even though she still is negatively judged, according to Frances, in this less sophisticated rural setting. When Vivian gets her divorce and must head back east, she asks Cay to come with her, relocating their “desert hearts” to New York. Cay, the supposedly courageous one, is hesitant to leave the safety of her comfort zone. It is now the once conservative Vivian who is defiantly willing to pursue her gay relationship in the open on her turf, possibly hoping that the liberal world back home will tolerate her choice. The film ends with Vivian asking Cay to ride with her to the next station. She reaches out, Cay takes her hand, and they ride off. The ending is not conclusive, but there is the hope that they will try and make a life together.

A Brief History of Time

The title of this 1991 documentary by renowned filmmaker Errol Morris is taken from the acclaimed book written by physicist Stephen Hawking, who defied all odds and lived until the age of 76 despite having ALS. The movie addresses Hawking’s studies concerning the Big Bang theory which attempts to address the origins of the universe. Hawking discusses associated topics involving time and its relationship to the Theory of Relativity and black holes.

Morris recreated Hawking’s study, including the poster of Marilyn Monroe on the wall, depicting the woman who was revered for her physical appearance contrasting with the man whose body was decimated, but whose mind was universally admired. Morris interviews Hawking’s family members who relate that before he was stricken by the paralyzing effects of the disease which rendered him immobile and confined to a wheelchair, Hawking was physically adventurous, finding all sorts of ways to enter his family home, which others did not know of, including climbing up its facade to enter through upper story windows. These stories, and others, besides showing how much ALS reversed his life, also show how Hawking was solving problems at an early age, coming up with answers that others could not. The irony of Hawking’s story is that he had the intellect and drive to explore an infinite, expanding universe while a disease imploded his body, attempting to convert him into a human version of a dense black hole.
Paradise Now

This 2005 movie was the first Palestinian film to be nominated for an Oscar. The movie does not attempt to present a balanced view concerning Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints. It does not depict any oppressive acts by Israel, but clearly blames that country for creating an intolerable situation. There is no consideration as to Israel’s position that it is fighting for its existence in the region. What the film does do is objectively present opposing views as to how the Palestinians should fight for what they want.

Said (Kais Nashif) and Khaled (Ali Suliman) are lifelong friends who work as auto mechanics in the West Bank. The area contains a great deal of rubble, and generally looks like a war zone that has been bombed. So, the impression is one of continuing conflict and devastation. A significant scene shows an argument with an automobile owner over whether a repaired car bumper is crooked or not. Even after a level is used, the owner insists that the bumper is not straight. The incident illustrates how entrenched views which leave no room for any other viewpoint will eventually lead to a confrontational situation.

Said and Khaled sit above their town on a hill, looking down on the community below. The feeling one gets is that they wish to rise above their situation, to escape their sad lives and do something meaningful. They have decided to achieve this end by volunteering for a suicide bombing mission in Tel Aviv. Said was born in a refugee camp and was only allowed to leave the West Bank once for a surgery when he was very young. His father was executed. He says, “The worst crime of all is to exploit the people’s weaknesses and turn them into collaborators.” This statement may be a reference to how the Nazis exploited the fears of the Jews. Said initially has reservations and disagrees with Khaled about using violence to accomplish their goals.

Khaled argues with a more affluent Palestinian woman who Said is attracted to, named Suha (Lubna Azabal). She had been traveling overseas and perhaps that has given her a distanced, objective perspective on the situation. However, when we first see her entering the West Bank, the Israeli soldier checking her credentials shows contempt for her with just his looks and hand movements, which are dismissive. Khaled says, trying to justify violent action, “If we can’t live as equals, at least we’ll die as equals.” Suha counters with “you should be able to find a way to be equal in life.” She argues that killing Israelis will justify more killing of Palestinians. Khaled sounds like anyone trying to throw off tyranny when he says, “There can be no freedom without struggle. As long as there is injustice, someone must make a sacrifice.” But what he is proposing is killing innocent people, and Suha accuses him of wanting “revenge.” She says when one turns into a killer, that person adopts the attributes of the enemy, and then, “there’s no difference between victim and occupier.”

The two men prepare for their suicide mission, making video recorded statements that are to be shown after the explosions take place. The operation runs into a snag when the person who was to transport them does not show up. Said becomes separated from Khaled, who eventually changes his position when he sees how the Palestinian terrorist leaders are quickly ready to blame their own man, Said, for the failure of the mission, and assume he has become a traitor. Also, he learns that the videos made of the suicide bombers are sold for profit, which further angers Khaled.

Said eventually concludes that peaceful ways have not worked. For him, “A life without dignity is worthless. Especially when it reminds you day after day of humiliation and weakness.” The movie ends with a chill as Said travels on a bus in Tel Aviv, wearing the suicide vest, ready to set off the bombs. When Khaled was arguing with Suha he said that at least by sacrificing himself he still had paradise to look forward to. She says that there is no paradise, and that it only exists in his head. His response is that he would rather exist in that idea of paradise in his head than live in a world that he considered to be hell. Even without the hope of that heaven that the radicals promise as a result of martyrdom, the film seems to be saying that for some, the freedom that comes from that feeling of “paradise now,” as opposed to later, sustains them.

I expected a somewhat heated discussion over this film choice because a number of the class students are Jewish. However, only one said that the movie was one-sided in only showing the Palestinian view of the issue. Our instructor reminded us that it was made by a Palestinian film crew and its focus was on the problems of the people living in the West Bank. One member who comes from the Middle East thought that the film fell short in not showing the harshness of Israel’s actions against the Palestinians.
A Serious Man

Whether or not you like this 2009 film written and directed by Joel and Ethan Coen, you have to admit the brothers take on the big question of whether life makes any sense. Since it is the Coens making the movie, the answer is pretty much that the human condition is absurd, and cinematically they convey this view by taking average situations and satirically exaggerating them until events appear surrealistic.

The Coens drew on their own Jewish, Minnesota background, so the movie is steeped in the Jewish American experience. One person in our class hated the film because she felt that it reduced characters to offensive Jewish stereotypes. However, many with Jewish backgrounds felt the picture resonated with their own experiences. Even if one is not Jewish, a person who knows world history has learned that Jews have undergone a great deal of suffering. I believe that is why this film owes a great deal to the bible’s “Book of Job.” There, a man undergoes a great deal of unjust suffering, but is somehow required to keep his faith in a deity who definitely “works in mysterious ways.”

The movie has an odd opening which seems to have nothing to do with the rest of the story. It is set in the past in a rustic European Jewish shtetl with a husband (Allen Lewis Rickman) bringing home a villager (Fyvush Finkel) for dinner as thanks for helping him repair the wheel on the husband’s cart. However his wife (Yelena Shmulenson) tells him the man died, so the creature who helped him is a dybbuk (a sort of evil spirit). The guest says he recovered from his bout with death. The wife is convinced that he is a dybbuk and stabs him in the chest with a knife. He begins to bleed and stumbles out. We then hear “Somebody to Love” by the Jefferson Airplane as the camera takes us through a narrow tunnel that turns into the wire connected to the air plug through which young Danny Gopnick (Aaron Wolff) is listening to the song in his bar mitzvah class in the 1960’s. His teacher confiscates the boy’s tape player.

Our film instructor theorized that the movie is told from the boy’s point of view, and we are sort of in his head as the audience. I’m not sure about that. I think the tunnel-wire is just a visual device that connected the opening to the rest of the story. The opening is like the theme of the film in miniature, as it shows that despite all good intentions, sometimes bad things happen, and there are no definite answers as to why things occur.

The main character of the movie is Larry Gopnick (Michael Stuhlbarg), but even though he may be the Job figure, there are other characters who suffer in the story. Larry is a mathematics professor, and, professionally and personally, he wants solutions to problems. However, even though he has certainty in his equations, he does not get that element in his life (and that frustration even invades the sanctuary of his job in a scene where he fills a huge blackboard with calculations that lead not to some revelation but instead to the Uncertainty Principle). Larry doesn’t seem to have a grip on what goes on around him. A student and his father try to extort a passing grade from him. His bigoted, gun-toting neighbor infringes on his property line. He seems to know little about what is happening with his daughter, Sarah (Jessica McManus), son Danny, and his wife, Judith (Sari Lennick). Judith quickly announces that their marriage isn’t working, that he should talk to a lawyer, and he should move out. The other man in his wife’s life is Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed), an overbearing, pretentious guy, who claims to be “a serious man,” a type of person Larry wants to truly be. Despite his fake shows of congeniality toward Larry, Sy probably is sending negative letters to the college where Larry teaches, undermining his chance at getting tenure.

Uncle Arthur, who was living with the Gopnick family, and goes with Larry to stay at the ironically named Jolly Roger motel, is afflicted with a cyst on his neck, which he constantly drains with a suction machine. Arthur engages in illegal gambling and is arrested. He is another suffering figure who tries to beat the odds against him with his gambling, but he suffers physically and mentally here. A friend at a picnic (Katherine Borowitz) tries to comfort Larry following his marriage separation by annunciating the Job theme by saying, “It’s not always easy, deciphering what God is trying to tell you.” But, she assures him that he is not alone in trying to understand cosmic workings. Jews can help each other because, “we have that well of tradition to draw on, to help us understand. When we’re puzzled, we have all the stories that have been handed down from people who had the same problems.” She should know about God’s confusing ways, since we see that she is a nice lady who has braces on her legs, trying to deal with why she was incomprehensibly afflicted. (One class member, who recently saw a version of Fiddler on the Roof, wondered if that story also influenced the Coens since it deals with drawing on, as one song says, “Tradition” to deal with the precariousness of life. In this film there is a shot of Larry on the roof of his house, though he is fixing his TV antenna so his son can get better reception to watch “F Troop, which sadly I remember, and peek at his naked neighbor as she sunbathes).

Larry goes to a couple of rabbis for philosophical help after his wife’s lover, Sy, is killed in a car crash. He wonders if the fact that he was in a car accident at the same time as was Sy, who was killed in the incident, has any significance. He says to Rabbi Natchner (George Wyner) that he wonders if God is saying, “Sy Ableman is me? Or that we are all one, or something?” He is trying to make sense out of something that may just be a sad coincidence. Natchner tells him this long story about a dentist who found Hebrew markings on the insides of a goy patient’s teeth which translated to “Help me, save me.” Larry’s normal reaction is he wants a solution to this mystery. But he is frustrated when the rabbi tells him that the dentist, after not finding any markings on anybody else’s teeth, just went on with his life. When Larry asks what happened to the goy, Natchner says, “Who cares?” The Coens are poking fun at those who immerse themselves in attempting to try to make sense out some things that are just senseless.

Larry’s son, Danny, after his bar mitzvah, meets with the old and learned senior Rabbi Marshak (Allan Mandell) supposedly for some traditional religious counseling. In the rabbi’s office we see a painting of the sacrifice of Isaac and one of teeth (reminding us of Natchner’s crazy story), both pointing to questionable stories relating to God’s intent. But instead of offering ancient wisdom, the rabbi quotes from the Jefferson Airplane song, saying, “When the truth is found to be lies/And all the hope within you dies.” He changes “joy” to “hope” but whatever the deprivation, the song urges then to “find somebody to love,” which Danny can relate to, instead of some cliched attempt at justifying God’s ways to man. The rabbi returns the tape player to Danny, and gives the best advice of all in a cruel world: “Be a good boy.”

After Larry and his wife are happy following their son’s bar mitzvah and may reconcile, and he learns he will be granted tenure, then God, the universe, or just life in general drops the other shoe on Larry. He gets a phone call from his physician, who had told him his annual examination was fine, and which gave him a false sense of peace. Now the doctor says Larry must come into the office right away to talk about his x-ray results. The obvious implication is that it will not be good news. Danny’s school is evacuated as a tornado approaches. In “Job,” God appears out of a whirlwind, demonstrating his power and obscurity. Facing life’s horrors, what is one to do? The film ends with the song from the beginning, urging us that the only refuge is to “find somebody to love.”

The next film is The Fisher King.