The Thing I Like About …

Sleepy Hollow (TV-2013):  Ichabod.

Ichabod Crane has been transported from his time – the late 18th century – to our time.  He faces a world much changed from his, but he accepts his circumstances with good humour and courage.  He welcomes learning about the new things around him, which makes his fish-out-of-water days rather brief.

Part of his acceptance stems from the fact that he is not so different from us as we might have imagined; he sees very quickly that the world in many ways is just the same as in his time  – bad guys are still bad, good guys are still good, people are people – and we see that, while he may sound like he walked out of a Jane Austen novel, he is perfectly “normal” (intelligent, sarcastic, and funny).

We live in a world where it bothers us if the coffee shop is closed today, or if there’s a new picture on our money, or if others aren’t doing/watching/listening to/liking exactly the same things we do.  We don’t like change, even when it’s the change we asked for.  We also live in a world where we think we are the culmination of civilization – that all that came before us are ignorant savages completely foreign to our “sophisticated” ways of thinking and living.  We forget what Ichabod knows – that people are people, that they always have been, and likely always will be.  We forget that people-being-people isn’t a bad thing particularly, so we criticize all that seems different, assume the worst, and resist growth, change, or learning.  We would be terrified and lost in Ichabod’s world, and often we’re terrified and lost in our own.

Neil Postman wrote a book called “Building a Bridge to the 18th Century” … thank goodness Sleepy Hollow took him up on his suggestion.  I look forward to seeing the world through Ichabod’s eyes.

The Thing I Like About …

Pulp Fiction:  the fact that Vincent and Jules are alive at the end [spoiler alert].

Pulp Fiction is a movie based around vignettes; we watch one group of people and then another, followed by the intriguing bits where the vignettes intersect and stories come together.  Time isn’t a huge factor, and part of the coming-together moment is in figuring out the time-line of the things we’ve seen.

Vincent Vega gets killed two-thirds of the way through the movie by Butch Coolidge; he dies unceremoniously while coming out of the bathroom.  (In fact, all of the things that go wrong for Vincent in the film happen as he’s coming out of a bathroom.)  But then, just when we’ve emotionally moved on from his character and settled in to wrap up other characters’ stories, we go back to a point earlier in the day – Jules and Vincent are in the diner, discussing Jules’ retirement, and, after Vincent goes to the bathroom, thereby triggering the climactic scenes of the movie, he and Jules pick up their stuff and walk cheerfully out of the diner.  So Vincent is alive.  Again.

Humans are material creatures.  We exist in space, and we measure our lives by the linear progression of time.  But we don’t particularly like that.  We write countless stories of time travel and of mystical journeys to places outside the ordinary confines of material reality.  We write vignette-based stories that allow us to do the thing we can’t do in real life: we can stop the narrative wherever we want, and we can come away with whatever ending we choose, regardless of what’s happened “before”.

Vincent Vega comes back to life in Pulp Fiction, and walks away triumphant.  If he can do that, maybe we in the real world can at least accept that our pasts are only as definitive as we allow them to be – that at any moment we can rewrite where we’re going, no matter what’s happened – or what we’ve done – before.  All we have to do is pick up our stuff and walk out of the diner … and decide that we’re alive now.

The Thing I Like About …

In Time: the part where his mother is running for her life [spoiler alert].

In In Time, Will Salas and his mother Rachel live in a world where time is currency; people stay young forever, so they are programmed at birth to have only a certain amount of time to live.  If someone’s little electronic arm-display goes to zero, the program stops the person’s heart, and he dies.  As you might expect, the “rich” – the ones with hundreds of years on their arm-displays – horde time, while the “poor” have to work all day just to earn enough time to live until morning.  The rich live in one part of the city, and the poor live in another part, separated by concrete walls and roadblocks; the rich move slowly and leisurely, while the poor, having to accomplish as much as possible in the brief time they’re given, move quickly.  They don’t mosey, or stroll, or dawdle.  They run.

Will has come into some extra time that he will give to his mother as soon as she gets home on the bus.  He has a bouquet of flowers for her.  He’s excited to see her.  But when the bus arrives, she’s not on it.  The city raised the bus fare to two hours for a trip, but Rachel only has two hours left.  She’s obliged to run, hoping she can get home before her display drains to zero.  She runs through the dark, empty streets; she runs for the two hours, sprinting, her bare feet slapping the pavement as she flies with all her strength.  She runs, and catches sight of Will, who has realized what must have happened and is running toward her as fast as she is running toward him.  They see each other, and run toward each other, and … she’s too late.

She dies.

Our lives aren’t printed on electronic displays on our arms.  Unlike the people in the movie, we can’t earn more hours by working harder, or steal them in a poker game.  We don’t know how long we have; at any moment any one of us could die.  So does that mean we should all start moving a little faster, and doing as much as possible in the brief and unpredictable time we have? – not at all.  In fact, I think we should slow down, and move much more slowly, and just be – as intensely as possible for whatever length of life we’re given.  Rachel had the opportunity to know exactly how long she would live; she responded by living her life as fully as she could, by running with all of her strength and will and soul to cling to a life she knew was precious and fleeting.  So often, we just go through the motions of our lives, not even aware that time is ticking by, not able to run for our lives even if we wanted to.  We don’t see our lives – our time – as a gift that can drain away; we don’t have passion for our lives.

Maybe things didn’t end well for Rachel … but in the two hours she spent running – toward her son, her life, her chance – she lived with more passion than a lot of people in the real world ever, ever do.