The Constant Gardener

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Love. At Any Cost.
So reads the tagline for The Constant Gardener, a film of rare empathy that also succeeds as a pulse pounding thriller.
On the surface, it’s about a love so intoxicating that Justin (Ralph Fiennes) is willing to die for it. Flashbacks show Tessa (Rachel Weisz) and Justin cavorting in bed, learning each others bodies, arguing.
Their romance is not given the typical romantic treatment, in which the couple goes on a date, camera lingerings on their faces, their gestures, and eventually come to the conclusion they are perfect for each other. We see them taking a bath together, and then we see Justin growing suspicious of Tessa, only for her to assuage his fears with pure, blatant honesty. Perhaps that is why it is so effective. The relationship is built not on grandiose Hollywood gesticulations, but the quiet workings of a couple who are at ease with one another.
The other love is the love for our neighbors. In this case, the poorest neighbors we can possibly imagine, as much of the action takes place in Kenya. Not once does the film induce pity for the happenings in the African continent-there are enough non profits and Facebook groups that do that already.
What the film does, and does so wonderfully, is present an infuriatingly unjust situation and tell the viewer that this is why we should love our neighbor. If we really did, we would not be using destitute Africans as guinea pigs.

There is more. The film also asks up to empathize with people like Tess, activists who have made it their life work to improve those of others. There are scenes in which Tess completely ignores her husband, so lost is she in the righteousness of her mission. We are later told that it was to keep him safe, but it was unnecessary, even hurtful.
Seconds before he commits suicide by shooting himself eight times, Justin tells her as much. Did Tess go overboard? Was her death preventable? What did her actions truly accomplish? Did she end up hurting her husband in the name of love, for him and her neighbors?
May we all find the love we need, so we can finally say we are home.

A-

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The English Patient

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This morning I woke up thinking of her. Although I will think of her at least once during my day, be it by being reminded of her scent by a quick passerby or something she said by something I see, this memory was much more immediate. As the hours progressed I realized it was because I had dreamed of her the night before. The realization made me miserable. There I was, thousands of miles away, months removed from her kisses and completely unaware of the state of her life, and yet in my dreams she was as vivid as the cool breeze that swept the university campus at 11:30am. I sat down and cried for a while.

There are similar moments peppered throughout The English Patient. Count Laszlo de Almasy (Ralph Fiennes) lays in bed, burnt to a crisp, and gazes at nothing as he recalls fond memories of the woman he loves. And I thought to myself, “what that poor man must be feeling! what utter sadness his heart is drowned in!”

B+

Schindler’s List

schindlerIn the annals of cinema history, few pictures can match the devastating effect Schindler’s List has on the viewer.
Long I’d heard about this movie; online and off, I had encountered many raves and praises, yet nothing could have prepared me for those actual three hours of history that Steven Spielberg managed to capture on celluloid.

Without a doubt his magnum opus, Spielberg must have found production the most emotionally demanding of his film career, as there is no way any sane person can go over such ghastly events on a day to day basis without it affecting its psyche. For the effort alone, the director must be commended. But going through all that and producing what is perhaps the finest and most haunting film about the Holocaust ever made? There are simply no words.

Shot on beautiful black and white photography, Schindler’s List never asks us to cry. It never demands us to come face to face with the worst parts of our humanity. By feeling more like a documentary than a straight narrative, it simply moves from one event to the other, never commenting on what the characters do. It exists, and we are witnesses to what is presented to the camera. I imagine there can be a multitude of reactions a person can have while watching this, but I doubt indifference is one of them. This is a movie in which the only way not to feel a thing would be to turn it off, for the camera has such power it nearly comes alive.

I was reminded of Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave, and I found the thought curious, so I further prodded my mind.
It is not that both films address the horrors humans are capable of inflicting upon each other, nor that they are handled in the same way, with the camera never intruding in the proceedings, but merely standing by, silently witnessing each atrocity. I think it was because I looked to myself and wondered, “Would you be capable of doing this to a fellow human being?”

The tragedy is that we all can. We are a fallen people, and it is astounding that we have made it this far without tearing each other apart. What’s most astounding is that a Savior would willingly give His life for us. Because we do not deserve it, do we? Yet, by love and love alone, we are freed from shame and sin and death, and are able to look up at the sky and smile. For we are forgiven.

May we strive, every single day of our existence, to live right in this world. To do good. Let the Schindler’s of this life overcome the Goethe’s. May hope defeat bleakness, and light swallow darkness.
It is the only reasonable way to live.

A+