Thursday, January 11, 2007

Pursuit of Happyness

I can only go to movies with JPII Institute students, or people who just "get" us weirdos.

We got in a discussion at lunch about this movie, and somehow in a group of daily mass and Jesus-loving Catholics, the particular weirdness of my education reared its (beautiful?) head.

From the desire to be understood, Jesus deliver me!

The premise of the movie is distinctly American: the triumph of the human spirit, the benefits of perseverance, the greatness of taking a big risk and seeing it pay off against all odds.

What did I expect? I guess I had hoped for something deeper than I got. There are directors in the world who could do great things with a story like this-- a man who keeps failing even to the point of being homeless with his son but lands an internship and subsequently a very prestigious job as a stock broker. A good artist could make a lot out of that.

Instead, the message was that happiness is found in dollar signs. That you should risk everything for the sake of a dream even if it involves risking your marriage, even your life.

The arguments of many today and many others are all valid and interesting. It is amazing and cool to see how someone could just go for something big against all odds and especially for someone without a college degree to know they can still be successful. It showed a man who would do anything to make sure that his son knew his father.

But is it ok, really, for a bright and intelligent man to allow things to get so bad that his wife is working double shifts while he still tries to sell medical supplies (his first job- I hope you've seen it or this won't make sense)? He certainly could have gotten at least a part-time job to help them get through while he wasn't selling much. Pride.

And is it ok that his marriage was torn apart and his wife left him and their son? Yes, it was her decision to leave, but she was pretty desperate and you could see that the frustration had been building up after a long time of "pulling more than her weight" to take care of them. Chris's passion that his son not grow up without a father should have also translated into a passion that he not grow up without a mother either.

The first scene when he sees all the stock brokers and says "They were all so happy" I figured was going to lead to him realizing in the end that happiness did not lie in money like he thought. Nope, not the lesson. The last scene is him crying with joy because he got a high-paying job. That's it. Money IS the answer to happiness. There were plenty of opportunities for the film to suggest that happiness did not lie there, and that even rich people had struggles. Nope. Their lives are perfect in their box seats at football games and fancy cars. Shallllllllow.

And finally, in the end, besides the main character, the only faces of homelessness in the movie are the stereotypes. I've heard this called a "social work movie"; No, it's not a social work movie. You don't learn anyone else's story. The only other homeless character who is recurring is a typically crazy one used for comic relief. It would be one thing if that was intentional and for effect (i.e. when you're homeless you feel invisible, just another face in the crowd) but it wasn't done that way. It doesn't ask any questions about that. It also doesn't deal with the question of why Chris did not have any friends or family around. If you're going to treat his character as if he's the orphaned only child of poor parents, you at least should explain that, and that still doesn't help explain why he has only 1 friend who owes him $14.

Luckily I saw the movie with Sr. Morning who shared the same quandries. And I'm starting to think that I can't even go to the movies anymore.

We will never be normal again, my friends.


Amy said...

Who needs to be normal? It's overrated and quite frankly I don't know anyone worth admiring who lived a normal life. Besides, normal people do normal things and produce normal things. Truly extraordinary people know how to truly 'be' useless? Something i seem to remember 'the great one' saying we needed to recover a sense of.

annee said...

The autobiography on which the movie is based (also titled "The Pursuit of Happyness") will help answer your questions.

earthie said...

Really? That's good. I probably won't read it, but you can fill me in!

Carla said...

Ever heard the Jesuit Volunteer Corps motto? When I was in college it was "Be Ruined For Life". In a sense I think that should be the Institute's motto too. Be Ruined for "Normal". But I'm with Amy on the "normal" thing. :)

Anonymous said...

I love it! I thought the exact exact exact same things as I left the movie theatre with my group of beautiful, Jesus loving friends who really liked it. Literally, Earthie: almost exact scene-by-scene critiques.

Devin said...

My wife, Katie responds (after I read her this post):

Ohmygoodness, me too! My poor husband, Devin, has to endure my commentaries on the shallowness of Spiderman (which he likes) and the theological foibles of "Song of Bernadette" (which he also likes).

Good news: We just watched an excellent movie, "The Final Days of Sophie Scholl". It is worth your two hours.

laurenheck said...

So funny & true - me too.