Starbuck’s Glorified Body

In the final season of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, a cool thing happened that I’ve never seen commented upon elsewhere.

Kara Thrace, aka Starbuck, seemingly dies in episode seventeen of season three, “Maelstrom”. Quoting from the Wikipedia page:

Starbuck passes out as her fighter begins a wild spin. The cockpit alarms change to the alarm of a clock and the scene changes to Starbuck lying in bed in her apartment on Caprica. She turns the off the clock and immediately finds Leoben sitting by her side.

Starbuck believes she is being tricked again and that this is all a dream or some Cylon mind-game. Leoben assures her that he is there to give her a chance at something she avoided in her past. … Leoben tells her that death is not hard to embrace, and that is the message her mother was trying to tell her all along. Starbuck finally sees Leoben as something else, perhaps not a Cylon, but her spiritual guardian. Leoben says he never claimed he was actually Leoben.

In reality, Starbuck finally awakens to the shouts of Apollo begging her to come back. She moves her hand near the ejection seat lever on her Viper before telling him that she is no longer afraid and will “see him on the other side”. Apollo demands that she pull up, but she whispers, “just let me go… they’re waiting for me”. Apollo then sees an explosion as Starbuck’s Viper breaks apart and disintegrates.

Then, to everyone’s surprise, she shows up as if nothing had happened in the second episode of season four, “He That Believeth In Me”. Again, quoting the Wikipedia page:

Starbuck returns with a seemingly brand new (Mk II) Viper. She doesn’t recall being killed and believes that she was only gone for six hours.

The key is her “seemingly brand new Viper”. Chief Tyrol remarks that there isn’t a mark on it, that it is completely unblemished. Starbuck, is becomes clear, has died and now returned from the afterlife in her glorified body. (As has her Viper.)

The Catholic Encyclopedia, in listing the “Characteristics of the risen body”, says:

Again, the resurrection, like the creation, is to be numbered amongst the principal works of God; hence, as at the creation all things are perfect from the hand of God, so at the resurrection all things must be perfectly restored by the same omnipotent hand. But there is a difference between the earthly and the risen body; for the risen bodies of both saints and sinners shall be invested with immortality. This admirable restoration of nature is the result of the glorious triumph of Christ over death as described in several texts of Sacred Scripture: Isaiah 25:8; Osee, xiii, 14; 1 Corinthians 15:26; Apocalypse 2:4.

When the dead are resurrected they are done so in their glorified bodies, restored not only perfectly to their bodies but restored to perfect bodies unblemished by the fall of man. Just like Starbuck’s Viper — a perfect, unblemished ship. Starbuck, too, is changed; most obviously, she now has the gift of vision.

It was deliciously delightful for me to watch the final season, recognizing the entire time that Starbuck had returned in her glorified body, like Moses and Elijah descending to speak with Jesus in the Gospels (Matthew 17, Mark 9, Luke 9).

In the final episode of the show my suspicions up to that point were confirmed. As she had claimed in the very beginning, “Head Six” was revealed to be an angel, along with “Head Baltar” and (presumably) the Leoben from HTBiM, guiding the destiny of the humans. Her mission complete, Starbuck says goodbye to Lee Adama and then just disappears.

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On Beauty (pg. 3, 6)

After an introduction in which Scarry writes of beauty that:

It seems to incite, even to require, the act of replication. Wittgenstein says that when the eye sees something beautiful, the hand wants to draw it.
        Beauty brings copies of itself into being. It makes us draw it, take photographs of it, or describe it to other people.

we eventually come to the first (of what I hope will be many) defense of beauty in popular culture:

Beautiful is sometimes disparaged on the ground that it causes a contagion of imitation, as when a legion of people begin to style themselves after a movie starlet, but this is just an imperfect version of a deeply beneficent momentum toward replication.

I love the idea that imitation is no reason to attack beauty, as it is merely an imperfect expression of a laudable impulse, must as St. Augustine wrote that sin is a disordered expression of an ordered and God-given desire.

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Reading “On Beauty and Being Just” by Elaine Scary

My friend Grace suggested that I read On Beauty and Being Just by Elaine Scary. She says that it covers many of the same themes that underlie the mission statement here.

My wife got me a copy for Christmas. It is deliciously dense and packed with thought-provoking meaning.

I will be blogging about it as I slowly work my way through it.

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Families of Intent and Becoming Your True Self

As long as I’m on the subject of Twilight again, a short note: I’m surprised that the series hasn’t, so far as I can tell, been more embraced by alternative lifestyle communities.

Point One :: In the Cullens, we have a wonderful family of intent. They are not family by blood, but by choice. The parents, Carlisle and Esme, found each other and then “adopted” others like them. They offer each other support. They accept Bella into their family and, to the surprise of the Volturi and werewolves, risk their lives for her. This is surely demonstrating my own quirky mind, but what the Cullens most reminded me of is the House of Ninja from Paris is Burning, a wonderful documentary about the golden age of Harlem ball culture.

Point Two :: Bella’s character arc depicts a young woman who has always felt out of place and uncomfortable in her own skin finally discovering who she is and where she belongs. As Monica Bartyzel writes in a comment elsewhere:

I think it’s said in the book, but it’s definitely in the movie that Bella tells Edward she wants to marry him because of how she finally feels like herself. “This wasn’t a choice between you and Jacob. It was between who I should be and who I am. I’ve always felt out of step. Like literally stumbling through my life. I’ve never felt normal, because I’m not normal, and I don’t wanna be. I’ve had to face death and loss and pain in your world, but I’ve also never felt stronger, like more real, more myself, because it’s my world too. It’s where I belong.”

Families of intent and people finding and embracing their true identities. I think it’s a hopeful, comforting message for those struggling with feeling different and/or rejected by their blood families.

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Bella Swan vs. Katniss Everdeen: agency, strength, and what we value in female protagonists

The Twilight Saga’s Bella Swan has been accused of being a passive protagonist lacking agency. This claim is easily refuted by the text. Stranger, to me, is the fact that the other reigning young, female, YA protagonist, The Hunger Games’ Katniss Everdeen, is not similarly attacked. In her case the charge would be justified.

Bella makes choices throughout the Twilight series. She chooses to pursue Edward despite her fears. She chooses Edward over Jacob. She chooses to become a vampire. She chooses to keep her baby. And all throughout she makes the choices she views as necessary to protect those she loves.

While a case can be made that Edward is a controlling boyfriend — he goes so far as to disable her car at one point to try to keep her home-bound — it must be recognized that Bella never allows Edward to succeed in controlling her, that she always manages to do what she sets her mind to despite him. This is a consistent pattern, from the first book, in which she manages to elude both him and Alice, who can see the future (no small feat on Bella’s part!), in order to try to save her mother and confront James on her own, to the last book, in which she independently makes arrangements for her daughter, Renesmee, to go into hiding without Edward’s knowledge, and many points between.

The only time when Bella deigns to compromise with Edward on anything it is when Bella agrees to marry Edward and wait a year before becoming a vampire in exchange for Edward agreeing to “turn” her himself, and as a result of Bella getting her way on their honeymoon half of that compromise is soon voided by necessity.

Katniss Everdeen, on the other hand, is almost completely lacking agency. She makes only three choices, two which bookend the first book and then a third which, with her first choice, serve to bookend the trilogy:

  1. In the beginning of the first book, Katniss chooses to take the place of her sister, Prim.
  2. At the end of the first book, she defies the Capitol’s control and forces them to change the rules through decisive action.
  3. At the end of the last book, she makes a choice at the execution of the President (which I will not spoil).

Between these points, she is a pawn, manipulated by one power or another, completely robbed of self-determination. While Katniss recognizes that she is a pawn at various points, she is almost completely unable to free herself.

Before the contests, Katniss does not choose where she will go, what she will wear, how she will train. After the contests the same is true. During the contests she is killing people because the Capitol is forcing her to do so and every attempt to resist is met with rule changes and imposed complications which bring her into line with their wishes. When she escapes them she is again a pawn, told where to go, what to wear, and how she will train. She is a symbol for both sides and she knows it.

Like Bella’s triangle with Edward and Jacob, Katniss must choose between Peeta and Gale. But she never does. She cozies up to whichever one is convenient but never commits to either, never chooses. Even in the end she does not choose; the controlling powers place her and one of the boys in the same place and place the other boy elsewhere, so she ends up with the one that is at hand. Even after her last, grand act of defiance at the end of the last book, Katniss allows herself to be controlled.

That is, I think, my biggest complaint with The Hunger Games. The ending left me utterly cold. It was one thing to go along through a trilogy in which the protagonist has no agency, but in the end, when she finally makes a choice and acts for herself and for everyone, she allows the controlling powers to spin the act for their own end, never attempts to get her story out, and allows herself to be exiled, hidden away like an inconvenience so that they can continue to use her image to their own, populace-controlling ends.

Bella takes charge of her destiny and shapes her life as she chooses, while Katniss allows herself to be used and controlled even in the end. Despite this, Katniss is viewed by most as a “strong” protagonist while Bella is regarded as weak. Why? Katniss is skilled at bow hunting and surviving brutal murder contests. Bella demonstrates unheard of levels of self-control as a vampire “newborn” and survives multiple confrontations with more powerful forces intent upon taking her life. Both Bella and Katniss survive through their own ingenuity and because they surround themselves with allies. Yet the former is decried by many as a horrible role model for young women and the latter is not.

What does this say about our cultural values when it comes to protagonists, and perhaps particularly young female protagonists in YA lit? That physical strength is valued over the strength of self-control? That pining for love, and feeling depressed at its failure, is an unforgivable weakness? It’s hard not to see the condemnation of Bella as a form of self-loathing, in which in attacking her the critics attack their own human weakness as evidenced by her, wishing instead to be outwardly strong and heroic like Katniss, even at the cost of being an empty puppet of stronger forces.

UPDATE: My friend Eden brought the following to my attention. (Apparently I am not the first to have these thoughts.)

‘Twilight’ vs. ‘Hunger Games’: Why Do So Many Grown-Ups Hate Bella?

Girls on Film: ‘The Hunger Games,’ ‘Twilight’ & Teen Heroines

“The Hunger Games” vs. “Twilight”

Monika Bartyzel on Bella, Buffy, Katniss, and Femininity

Our Bella, Ourselves

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We Found Love (In A Hopeless Place)

I was going to write about Rihanna’s song, “We Found Love”, but the holidays have kept me busy.

Here, instead, is someone else’s similar take on it:

“We found love in a hopeless place” is repeated over and over again.

When I first heard the song, I immediately thought of 1 Timothy 1:1, where Paul greets Timothy “by [the] command of God our savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.”

This world can seem like a hopeless place. …

It is no coincidence that the first week of Advent is hope. It’s more than a campaign slogan: hope is a theological virtue. St. Thomas, in the Summa Theologica, wrote “the object of hope is a future good which is difficult to obtain, yet possible.” This is precisely why we Christians have a whole season devoted to awaiting Christ, whose Incarnation brings joy to the world, peace to all people, and, most importantly, hope.

Christians are called to be in the world, but not of it. This liturgical season gives us reason to hope in dismal circumstances, and puts a face to that hope too.

The message Rhianna’s music video, perhaps unintentionally, portrays is that this material world is not enough. No level of excitement can ever or truly be fulfilling. Meanwhile, her lyrics look upwards, aspiring for real love. The world she sees is hopeless; but doesn’t the love she finds there suggest some degree of it?

“It’s the feeling I just can’t deny / But I’ve got to let it go / We found love in a hopeless place / We found love in a hopeless place / We found love in a hopeless place,” sings Rhianna. Well, I can’t deny it either: “And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12).

Aquinas finished the section on hope as a virtue by saying, “he who hopes is indeed in respect of that which he hopes to obtain but does not yet possess. But he is perfect in that he already attains his proper rule, that is God, on whose hope he relies.”

— from Looking for Love in a Hope Filled World

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The Kryptonite Kid by Joseph Torchia

…And that Joseph Torchia’s heartbreaking novel of a boy’s letters to Superman, The Kryptonite Kid, is still out of print…

I first heard of The Kryptonite Kid from Neil Gaiman, in a post on his blog in which he was replying to a review in which Adam Mars-Jones stated, “Superhero fantasy is unsuitable as a serious theme for literary fiction, for much the same reasons that Pot Noodles are out of place at dinner parties.” I love examples of Superman being used as a vehicle for illuminating facets of the human condition, and Neil has nearly always steered me right, so I tracked down a copy.

It is an amazing book.

As Neil says, the book is comprised of a series of letters from young Jerry Chariot to Superman. Jerry (whose name bears a certain anagrammatic resemblance to the author’s, it should be noted, as this factors in somewhat to the ending in a way that simultaneously references Mxyzptlk) does not have a lot of positive role models or authority figures in his life. The nun who teaches his class is cruel. His father is distant and abusive. The top-rated review on Amazon states, in part:

At the last, from the last word of the last sentence in the last paragraph of the last chapter, they would find themselves booted, ejected and expelled, from Joseph’s world as emotionally wrecked, as broken and hopeless, and as forlorn, despairing, and defeated as at the last is his protagonist – a seven year old American schoolboy who believes as did most of us on our ways out of first grade that Superman is real.

It’s true that there is a lot of despair in the book. Jerry spends much of it forlorn. [SPOILERS] And by the end, he is physically wrecked.[/SPOILERS] The reviewer is wrong, though — or, at least, fails to see the light within the darkness that I see.

This book is a profound story of faith, of man’s relationship to God and, in the end, of God’s relationship to man.

Jerry Chariot is surrounded by cruelty and abuse. Much of it is coming from those who should most be demonstrating God’s love to him: his father, his mother, and the nun at his school. Both despite and because of this, he manages to find God elsewhere, in the form of Superman. And he maintains this faith, even when everyone tells him that Superman is not real, even when his father shows him the obituary of the actor who played Superman, even though everyone challenges him that he’s never seen Superman or been to Metropolis, even when he can’t find Metropolis on a map, even though Superman never writes back. He believes in Superman with a faith that will not be shaken.

[SPOILERS]That faith persists even when Superman fails to save Jerry. Near the end of the book, in a scene that calls to mind Christ’s temptation in the desert and Satan’s invitation that Christ throw himself from the top of the temple and trust that God’s angels will save him, Jerry leaps from the roof of his house, trusting that Superman will swoop in and save him. Superman, needless to say, does not fly down and save him. Jerry spends the end of the book laid up in the hospital, largely immobilized.[/SPOILERS]

There are continual comparisons made between Superman and God, and Superman and Christ, as Jerry approaches his First Holy Communion. Jerry, in his letters to Superman, comes right up to the edge of articulating the idea that Superman has become his stand-in for God.

[SPOILERS]In one final twist, at the end, the reader discovers that as Jerry fell from the roof, green cape flapping, he felt someone come up behind him through the air. It was not Superman. It was his father who, having arrived on top of the roof too late to grab him before his leap, has jumped after him, defying physics to catch him on the way down and cradle him, shielding Jerry with his own body to take the brunt of the impact upon hitting the ground. Jerry’s father, we learn, who has, up to this point, been every bit the stern, abusive caricature, had sacrificed himself for his son and died from his injuries. In this, even Jerry’s father becomes an example of Christ, sacrificing himself out of love.[/SPOILERS]

Jerry has an unshakable faith in Superman, as he is meant to have faith in God. Jerry loves Superman like he has been taught to love God. Jerry’s father ultimately shows his love for Jerry as Christ showed his love for all mankind, finally embracing the role that God intends for all fathers by manifesting God’s love to his family.

It is a dark book, and a difficult book, but also an amazing book. It is, contrary to the reviewer above, an ultimately hopeful book. And it is one that has continued to haunt me since I first read it.

(In the interest of completeness, I will also note that Jerry’s love of Superman can also be read as an expression of his latent homosexuality, which emerges thinly veiled in the denoument, embodied in a worship of the physical “perfection” of Superman.)

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Badly Broken

I’ve been watching Breaking Bad on AMC since the first episode. I am a huge fan of Bryan Cranston and expected great things from him, and ultimately I have not been disappointed.

After the first few episodes, there came a point during each episode, usually near the end, at which I asked myself why I was still watching. Yes, it was well done, well written and well acted, but it was unremittingly bleak. I kept asking myself if it was worth my time. Was it ennobling?

I am, as I have basically admitted, a pop culture junkie. I try to be somewhat discerning about it, though, both in terms of attempting to discern some deeper meaning in the pop culture with which I interact and in terms of wanting to steer clear of any that will have a negative impact on my state of mind.

There are many works which are well crafted yet so full of hopelessness and so insistent upon the ultimate meaninglessness of life that, which I can appreciate the artistry, I cannot bear to immerse myself in them.

The question, then, was: is Breaking Bad worth my time, or is it of the category of thing that will slowly corrode at my happiness and fill me with despair?

Eventually, it occurred to me that the redeeming value of Breaking Bad is that it serves as one long window into the consequences of sin and its corrosive nature, snowballing from “little” moral compromises to bigger and bigger trespasses. It is a cautionary tale.

I am not the only one to make this assessment, I have since learned:

I have never seen a show which portrays the addictive and destructive nature of sin better than Breaking Bad. Walter White uses the very good desire to provide for his family to justify some very bad behavior. … What the show also does extremely well is that it shows, with unflinching reality, the effects that sin has on those around us. At first Walter tries to convince himself that what he does isn’t hurting anyone and that those who choose to take the drug would do it whether he provided it or not. But the reality of the lives destroyed through drug use is vivid and unavoidable. Beyond that, the show brilliantly shows the unintended consequences of sin and its destructive force on the completely innocent, including the family he sought to protect.

— from Breaking Bad: The Wages of Sin

Watched with this in mind, I consider it the story of two people, Walter and Jessie, who make bad decisions with good intentions over and over again. I am rooting for Jessie to find some way to escape Walter’s orbit and his own past and that his innate goodness leads him to something more. I am hoping that Walter will die at the end, and that his pride will crumble in that moment and allow him to recognize how far astray he has gone. If it ends with Walter as the new Gus then, well, it’s still not a triumph, because we will have seen all that Walter sacrificed to get there (as well as what eventually happens to people like Gus).

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Michael Jordan as God: idolatry and all-giving love

Five For Fighting is primarily known for its single “Superman (It’s Not Easy)”. I love a good take on Superman. FFF’s “Superman” is, I think, my favorite use of Superman in a song. I’m sure I’ll write about it some time. And I really should do a post about Joseph Torchia’s “The Kryptonite Kid”, my favorite use of Superman as a symbol in a novel.

This post is not about Superman or “Superman”, though. This is about another Five For Fighting song, “Michael Jordan” — a little song, by comparison, and a seemingly simple one.

The song is, nearly entirely, a list of things that the singer would give to be Michael Jordan.

My shirt, my hat, my books
A trip to the zoo
My couch, remote, a large coke yea
I’d get on my knees, my God,
If I could

I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give to be you

In the beginning, the list of things is not very impressive. Note that here, at the outset, he references religion by saying that he’d get on his knees. We can take “my God” a number of ways; is it an exclamation, like “my word” or “great googly-moogly”, or something more?

My job, my car, my cash
My house on the hill
My piano, I’d burn to ashes (yea)
I’d get on my knees, my God,
If I could

I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give to be you

The list gets somewhat more impressive. For an artist to offer to destroy the instrument of his creativity and expression, in this case burning his piano to ashes, represents a serious sacrifice. Note the repetition of the last two lines in the first section.

My voice, my worm, my wife
A first born or two
I’d give the knife, my Mike if just,
Cut me at the knees
My God (My Jordan)

I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give anything
I would give to be you

In the final verse, the singer goes further; now he’d give up his voice itself, the internal instrument of his self-expression (as opposed to the external piano), his generative organ (another source of self-expression and legacy creation), and his wife. Calling to mind the story of Abraham and Isaac he offers to “give the knife” to “a first born or two”.

This time, the line, “I’d get on my knees, my God,” is replaced with, “Cut me at the knees / My God (My Jordan)”. The singer is conflating the two; Michael Jordan is his God. He’s on his knees before Michael Jordan.

On one hand: Idolatry.
On the other hand: Wow, he would sacrifice everything he has and everything he is to be more like “God”.

I’m going to look on the bright side and say that his all-giving worship for the divine is admirable, albeit mis-directed.

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Love and Forgiveness in the Fallen Worlds of Paul Thomas Anderson

There are films that are not the least bit concerned with the profound, but from which some profundity might be teased out, and films that openly grapple with profound matters.  While my idea of this site is to deal primary with the former, I want to highlight some of the latter as well, starting with this post.

Paul Thomas Anderson makes films about broken people living in a broken world, full of profanity and deviance, and what’s marvelous is that these people long for love and a connection with such hunger that they hit upon epiphanous truths in spite of their brokenness.

In Magnolia, Quiz Kid Donnie Smith (William H. Macy) longs desperately for love, so desperately that he wants to get braces that he doesn’t need just to have something in common with a man to whom he is attracted. In his most poignant bit of dialogue, near the end of the film, he states:

Quiz Kid Donnie Smith: I don’t know where to put things, you know? I really do have love to give! I just don’t know where to put it!

Donnie has all of this love to give, but no one to whom to give it. He tries to pour it all into an inappropriate crush. He longs to connect with someone, and to give of himself.

 

My favorite character in the movie is Officer Jim Kurring (John C. Reilly). Jim is a bumbling cop; he knows that he is not a very good cop, but he remains hopeful. Much of his plotline deals with his interactions with Claudia Wilson Gator, who is a cokehead, may have been molested, and has long-since given up on herself.

Claudia Wilson Gator: I’m really nervous that you’re gonna hate me soon. You’re gonna find stuff out about me and you’re gonna hate me.

Jim Kurring: No. Like what? What do you mean?

Claudia Wilson Gator: You have so much – so many good things. And you seem so together. You’re a police officer and you seem so straight and put together – without any problems.

Jim Kurring: I lost my gun today.

Claudia Wilson Gator: What?

Jim Kurring: I lost my gun today when I left you and I’m the laughingstock of a lot of people. I wanted to tell you. I wanted you to know and it’s on my mind. And it makes me look like a fool. And I feel like a fool. And you asked that we should say things – that we should say what we’re thinking and not lie about things. Well, I can tell you that, this, that I lost my gun today – and I am not a good cop. And I’m looked down at. And I know that. And I’m scared that once you find that out you may not like me.

Claudia Wilson Gator: Jim. That, that was so…

Jim Kurring: I’m sorry.

Claudia Wilson Gator: – great. What you just said.

Claudia’s fears are ones that many people share. She thinks that she needs to keep people at arm’s length so that they will not see her for who she believes herself to be. Against this, Jim’s honesty and earnestness are disarming. His lack of guile pierces Claudia’s defenses.

 

Jim provides voice overs periodically throughout the film, returning to a single theme and expanding upon it a little each time. In its final iteration, he says:

Jim Kurring: And what most people don’t see… is just how hard it is to do the right thing. People think if I make a judgment call… that’s a judgment on them, but that is not what I do. And that’s not what should be done. I have to take everything… and play it as it lays. Sometimes people need a little help. Sometimes people need to be forgiven. And sometimes they need to go to jail. And that is a very tricky thing on my part… making that call. I mean, the law is the law. And heck if I’m gonna break it. You can forgive someone. Well, that’s the tough part. What can we forgive?

Officer Jim represents God, in a way. He judges transgressions, not transgressors. He recognizes that sometimes people need a little help, that sometimes they need to be forgiven, and that forgiveness is the difficult part.

 

This last voice over feeds directly into the final monologue of the film. When I saw Magnolia in the theater, I was unable to make out the words that he was saying beneath the swell of the orchestral score. (I’m not sure if the sound was mis-balanced in that theater, or if this was somehow intentional, like Sofia Coppola keeping us from hearing whatever Bill Murray whispers to Scarlett Johanson at the end of “Lost in Translation”.) It wasn’t until I rented the DVD and watched the final scene with the subtitles on that I discovered what Jim had said, and it retroactively cast the whole film in a new and improved light for me.

At the end of the film, Claudia has run off, again insisting that she is stupid and a bad person and that Officer Jim is better off without her. Again, he refuses to accept that. He chases after her, and catches up to her:

Jim Kurring: I just wanted to come here… to come here and say something… say something important, something that you said. You said we should say things and do things. Not lie, not keep things back… these sorts of things that tear people up. Well, I’m gonna do that. I’m gonna do what you said, Claudia.

I can’t let this go. I can’t let you go. Now, you… you listen to me now. You’re a good person. You’re a good and beautiful person and I won’t let you walk out on me. And I won’t let you say those things, those things about how stupid you are and this and that. I won’t stand for that. You want to be with me… then you be with me. You see?

Claudia has made mistakes; she believes that as a result no one could love her. Jim, like Quiz Kid Donnie Smith, has a lot of love to give. It would be easy to believe that he has just latched on to Claudia because she is available, and needy. I think that would miss the point, though. Jim recognizes in Claudia the innate goodness and beauty within us, and refuses to accept Claudia’s protestations to the contrary. He is willing to forgive her for her mistakes, and recognizes that she needs to be assured of forgiveness so that she can forgive herself.

 


Punch-Drunk Love is a simpler movie, with fewer characters, but similar themes.

Magnolia primarily portrays relationships at their end; the only dawning relationship belongs to Officer Jim and Claudia and the film ends just as it will begin to blossom.  Punch-Drunk Love shows the blossoming of new love.

Barry has kept his emotions bottled up.  When they do boil over they come out in violent expression.

Barry: I’m lookin’ at your face and I just wanna smash it. I just wanna fuckin’ smash it with a sledgehammer and squeeze it. You’re so pretty.

Lena: I want to chew your face, and I want to scoop out your eyes and I want to eat them and chew them and suck on them.

[pause]

Barry: OK. This is funny. This is nice.

I love Barry and Lena’s relationship. I love the expression of that feeling of crazy, new love where the intensity of the feeling is difficult to distinguish from violent impulses.

 

Quiz Kid Donnie Smith has a love within him to give and despairs because he recognizes that he doesn’t know where to put it. Barry also has a love growing within him, but that love is returned, and he recognizes that it gives him strength:

Barry: I didn’t do anything. I’m a nice man. I mind my own business. So you tell me ‘that’s that’ before I beat the hell from you. I have so much strength in me you have no idea. I have a love in my life. It makes me stronger than anything you can imagine. I would say ‘that’s that’, Mattress Man.

 

Like Magnolia, Punch-Drunk Love ends with a powerful entreaty from a boy to a girl, similarly disjointed and longing:

Barry: Lena. I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry I left you at the hospital. I called a phone-sex line… I called a phone-sex line before I met you, and four blond brothers came after me and they hurt you, and I’m sorry. Then I had to leave again because I wanted to make sure you never got hurt again. And I have a lot of puddings, and in six to eight weeks it can be redeemed. So if you could just give me that much time, I think I can get enough mileage to go with you wherever you go if you have to travel for your work. Because I don’t ever want to be anywhere without you. So could you just let me redeem the mileage?

Barry pleads with Lena to take a chance on him using the metaphor of “redeeming the mileage”. Barry has a love now that gives him the strength to break free from his past, to forgive himself. He has kept himself bottled up and, like Claudia, has made mistakes.  He recognizes that love can redeem him, if Lena will allow him to love her.

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