Best Movies Set in Venice


rialto_1Ever been to Venice? Ever get a hankering to be there, like, right now? Sometimes that happens to me. Today it happened to one of my daughters.

Last night I saw the new Star Trek movie. Not to ruin the plot or anything, but you find out (sort of) how the transporter technology was devised by Scotty. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to just beam yourself to a nostalgic place for a day? “Southern California too boring for you? How about Venice? Beam me up, Scotty!”

Unfortunately, there isn’t an iPhone application for that. I checked. (Apple, are you listening?) But there is another option, another way to “take you there,” and that is to select a movie that is set in Venice.

200px-ItalianjobSo tonight we’ll be watching The Italian Job. It’ll bring back pleasant memories of our leisurely time strolling the Piazza San Marco, shopping the Rialto Bridge, and taking in the half-believable vista of the Grand Canal.

Or not.

“The Italian Job is hardly a film to slow your heartbeat.” Agreed. So our recollection of Venice will be accompanied by a high level of manufactured adrenalin. Anything wrong with that?

The 1969 version of The Italian Job, starring Michael Caine and Noël Coward, is different in interesting ways. (This was Noël Cowards last movie.) In fact, it’s different in so many ways that seeing the 2003 film, with Mark Wahlberg and Charliz Theron, does nothing to make the 1969 film predictable. Fortunately, there is one great similarity, and that is the role cast for the Mini Coopers used in the heist. The two movies begin and end very differently.

Other options for movies set in Venice include Casino Royale (for it’s ending), A Death in Venice (not a happy film), Everyone Says I Love You (a Woody Allen musical), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (more action and adventure in Venice), Just Married (a romantic comedy), The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (yep, the one with Sean Connery as Allan Quartermain), A Little Romance, (a comedy in which a 13-year-old American girl enjoys reading Heidegger!), The Merchant of Venice (Venice in 1596), Moonraker (James Bond movie #11, featuring Venice and a gondola/hovercraft contraption), Othello (take your pick: 1952 with Orson Welles, 1965 with Laurence Olivier, or 1995 with Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh), Pokémon Heroes (the fictional location “Johto” is supposed to be based on Venice), Sharks in Venice (for those who like implausible great white shark movies), Summertime (with Katherine Hepburn and probably the best cinematic exploitation  of Venice), The Thief Lord (co-written by children’s adventure novelist Cornelia Funke), The Venetian Affair (spy thriller starring Robert Vaughn and Elke Sommer, vintage 1967, and hard to find), The Wings of the Dove (“Venice has never been portrayed so beautifully, or romantically,” says Leonard Maltin’s 2007 Movie Guide).

Myself, I’ve seen exactly four of the movies on this list. Wanna’ guess which ones? I’ll send an Amazon gift card for $5 to the first person who gets it right, within 24 hours of this post. I’ll announce the winner—if there is one—at the end of 24 hours. (Setting my mobile phone timer . . . now.)

Good luck!

Oh, and by the way, you also have to explain why you picked the four you did AND tell me your favorite movie with a Venetian setting.

Presidential Leadership


So today is Presidents’ Day. We can’t all be in Washington, DC to visit the National Archives, the National Portrait Gallery, or the National Museum of American History. But there are interesting and edifying (or not) ways to memorialize the date and celebrate our presidential heritage. Some of these you can spread out over the week, others over a year—until the next Presidents’ Day.

  1. Visit the C-Span site for the Historians Presidential Leadership Survey for pages and pages of interesting facts and rankings. See also The American Presidency Project.
  2. Visit a presidential museum. We have two in southern California, the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Richard Nixon Library and Birthplace.
  3. us-constitutionReview U. S. Constitution guidelines for the presidency. Amazon has a nice paperback edition here.
  4. Have some fun. See if you can arrange pictures of the presidents in the chronological order of their administrations, at MIStupid.com. Do a word search puzzle or a jigsaw puzzle of the American presidents. There’s even a People’s Choice Presidential Card Game.
  5. Browse a pictorial reference book on American presidents. I recommend The American President: The Human Drama of Our Nation’s Highest Office.
  6. Select four presidents you’d like to know more about. Determine to read one substantive biography of each before next Presidents’ Day (15 Feburary 2010). Here are some recommendations: John Adams, by David McCullough; Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer; T. R.: The Last Romantic, by H. W. Brands; An Honest President: The Life and Presidencies of Grover Cleveland, by H. Paul Jeffers; and, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln, by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Or you might select from The American Presidents Series, a stunning set of easily digested volumes. Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., the general editor writes, “It is the aim of the American Presidents series to present the grand panorama of our chief executives in volumes compact enough for the busy reader, lucid enough for the student, authoritative enough for the scholar. Each volume offers a distillation of character and career.” This is a great series for getting to know those forgotten presidents—James Buchanan, book-coverbenjamin-harrisonBenjamin Harrison, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Chester Alan Arthur, William McKinley, James K. Polk, Martin Van Buren. I have the volume on Chester Alan Arthur, by Zachary Karabell, and the one on William McKinley, who was assassinated, written by Kevin Phillips.
  7. Alternatively, read a book that compares presidents from an interesting vantage point. For this I suggest Presidential Courage: Brave Leaders and How They Changed America, by Michael R. Beschloss. Beschloss is the fellow you see interviewed so often about presidential history. He has several bestselling books to his credit.
  8. For the biographies of those who ran for the presidency and lost, I recommend They Also Ran, by Irving Stone.
  9. In the category of historical fiction, you might try something like The Shut Mouth Society, by James D. Best; The President’s Lady: A Novel about Rachel and Andrew Jackson, by Irving Stone; or, Never Call Retreat: Lee and Grant—The Final Victory, by Newt Gingrich. In the “alternate history” category, there’s 1901, by Robert Conroy, imaging the transder of power from William McKinley to Theodore Roosevelt when Germany invades the United States. For speculative fiction involving presidential decision making during crisis, try Brad Thor’s novel State of the Union, or Absolute Power, by the bestselling thriller novelist David Baldacci.
  10. Identify a favorite non-living president and write down ten things you admire about him. Share these with a friend or family member.
  11. Pick a president you know little about, and see if you can learn ten interesting things about him. Try to identify skills or character traits you admire.
  12. Imagine a conversation with one of our past presidents. Who would you like to spend an hour with? What would you want to talk about? Write down ten questions you would ask? Do this with friends or family, and compare.
  13. Write an imaginary conversation between yourself and one of the presidents, or between three presidents who never knew each other (I did this in a blog post recently).
  14. Read select speeches of various presidents (for example, nomination and convention speeches, inauguration speeches, state of the union speeches, or speeches on important occasions—as when Reagan addressed the nation after space shuttle Challenger exploded shortly after launch).
  15. Rent a movie. Here’s a list of some “presidential” films, of different state-of-the-unionposter1kinds and quality: State of the Union, The American President, Dave, All the President’s Men, Nixon, Jefferson in Paris, Murder at 1600, Absolute Power, Wag the Dog, Primary Colors, JFK, Young Mr. Lincoln, Wilson (1944, with Charles Coburn), Gabriel Over the White House, Air Force One, In the Line of Fire, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, The First Wives Club. Don’t forget about movies from The History Channel: JFK: A Presidency Revealed, FDR: A Presidency Revealed, and Nixon: A Presidency Revealed. Here’s the IMDB site for a listing of Ronald Regan’s movies. For a book on how Hollywood has portrayed presidents and their administration, see Hollywood’s White House: The American Presidency in Film and History.
  16. Watch past episodes of 24 and The West Wing.
  17. Write a blog post with your own suggestions.
  18. Post suggestions in the combox for this post!

Related posts:

Faith, Film and Philosophy Book Now on Kindle


ffp-kindle-editionToday, Amazon announced the release of it’s Kindle 2. I’m pleased to announce that my book Faith, Film and Philosophy (co-edited with Jim Spiegel) is now available through Amazon in a Kindle version. Kindle users can now wirelessly download a complete copy here for $16.47, a 45% discount from the retail price of the paper edition.

For the paperback edition of Faith, Film and Philosophy: Big Ideas on the Big Screen, click here. At $19.77, that’s still a good savings of 34% off retail.

The book is in its second printing, and rights have been purchased for a Spanish language edition.

Reasons to Like “The Pink Panther 2”


posterpink-panther-2There are reasons to like The Pink Panther 2:

  1. John Cleese plays Chief Inspector Dreyfus.
  2. Steve Martin does onscreen physical comedy better than anyone else around.
  3. The film pokes fun at political correctness, in the form of uptight, and ultimately hypocritical, Lily Tomlin as Mrs. Berenger.
  4. The Andy Garcia character, Vicenzo, actually says, in dumbfounded awe, that Jacques Clouseau really is the greatest detective in the world. This is a positive step away from typecasting for Garcia.
  5. You can’t help laughing at a goodly number of the gags.

On the downside:

  1. This is slapstick comedy, hardly fashionable among today’s movieviewers, known for their refined taste.
  2. John Cleese doesn’t do paranoia as well you as would expect.
  3. Steve Martin is a greater talent than these films can demonstrate.
  4. Casting Yuki Matsuzaki as Kenji, Aishwarya Rai as Sonia, and Alfred Molina as Pepperidge is half of what’s wrong with this movie. John Cleese would have been a better Pepperidge (a virtual reprisal of his role as “Peasant 3” in Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Lily Tomlin would do as a Dreyfus stand-in. I mean that. Let Aishwarya play Mrs. Berenger (if there has to be a Mrs. Berenger). Maybe someone who looks more like Angelina Jolie than Aiswarya should be cast for the Sonia part (pretty crucial to the film, in more ways than one). Who then? How about Angelina Jolie? Jackie Chan, however old he is, makes better sense as Kenji.
  5. You can’t even make yourself laugh at a goodly number of the gags.

What did you think of The Pink Panther 2?

Michael Dirda on “The Knowledge Most Worth Having”


My education in the value of the personal essay probably began in a time and space I don’t recall. But I was compelled to appreciate this specialized form of literature most memorably during my reading of Philip Lopate’s collection The Art of the Personal Essay. The enthusiasm inspired by his anthology resulted in a welcome appetite for more of the same. Lopate’s genius for selecting the best of the breed was proven by the difficulty I experienced during my search for collections of comparable value. The annual publication of books in The Best American Essays series, edited by Robert Atwan, sometimes approximates the Lopate standard. And there are other worthy collections. Thankfully, my quest for the best has put me in touch with individual authors, contemporary essayists of the first rank, whose writing is consistently creative, wise, and ennobling.

My favorite contemporary essayists include Michael Dirda, Joseph Epstein, John Updike, and many others. This post loiters in one section of one essay from Michael dirdabook-by-bookDirda’s book Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life. The essay is titled “The Pleasures of Learning,” and the section I’ve isolated for consideration here is called “The Knowledge Most Worth Having.” This section consists of seven sentences, followed by a list of sixteen items, and a concluding sentence that reads:

Know these well, and nearly all of world literature will be an open book to you.

Clearly, Dirda’s reference to “the knowledge most worth having” is circumscribed by a specific purpose. He doesn’t mean to catalog all that it is most important to know. More precisely, he asks, “What should a person know of the world’s literature?” This question presupposes that some works are more worthy of our time and meditation than others, and that if we are to have a “structured reading program” we must have a criterion for determining which works are most deserving. Dirda gives us a criterion and then “a roughly chronological short  list of those that the diligent might read in a year or two.” Both the criterion and the list are interesting.

Dirda’s criterion—the test he uses in deciding which authors and which works are most rewarding for the reader who would attain a knowledge of the world’s literature—is simple. Devote yourself to those works “that later authors regularly build on, allude to, work against.”  Dirda does not elaborate on the principle, except to bestow a name on works that meet this condition; they are “the great patterning works.”

For further insight into the principle, we might consider Dirda’s list. He does not claim that it’s exhaustive. Actually, he implies that it is not. It’s a place to begin. Still, it’s a comfort to hear that “there aren’t many of these key books,” and it’s enticing to be told that “they aren’t all obvious classics.” One might spend a year or two in the company of these books, and then move on to others.

Before I reveal the list, I want to ask, again, what is the point of the list? It is to commend works with the potential to crack open the world of great literature. These works have this power because other authors have built on them, alluded to them, and worked against them. They are, in other words, touchstones for so much great literature that our capacity to appreciate and know the greatness of other works is unlocked by our acquaintance with these.

Now to the list. It is no surprise that it begins with

  • The Bible (Old and New Testaments)

Dirda recommends the Authorized, or King James, Version because it’s “the one that has most influenced the diction and imagery of English prose.” As a kid, I attended a Baptist Sunday School that used the King James Bible in Bible lessons, Scripture memory, and “sword drills.” (Incidentally, I never heard anyone seriously proffer a defense of the KJV on the grounds that “if it was good enough for Saint Paul, it’s good enough for me.” My Sunday school teachers were far more sophisticated than that.) In the third grade, taught by my mother, we children were awarded Bibles of our own—the King James Version, of course. Shortly after that, the production of new English translations began in earnest, and today the original KJV of 1611 is little known, even by those who know the Bible. I’m a proponent of the multiple versions doctrine, that individual versions or translations have their distinctive virtues, and that more than one should be consulted in the serious study of the Bible. But Dirda is hardly alone in proclaiming the incomparable linguistic beauty and legendary influence of the KJV, and I do not disagree. (For those interested in the translation debate, I recommend D. A. Carson’s book The King James Version Debate: A Plea for Realism.)

Next on the list:

The items listed by Dirda are not annotated. He doesn’t say why an entry meets the criterion he’s adopted. But some source containing the ancient myths of Greek, Roman, and Norse provenance is a no-brainer, and Bulfinch’s is the industry standard. Oddly, my copy of the generally reliable Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia (mine is the 3rd edition) has no entry for this classic collection. But then, neither does my handy paperback copy of The Reader’s Companion to World Literature. No matter. The important thing is that allusions to mythologies abound in acknowledged “great literature.” The reason for this is worthy of contemplation, but beyond the scope of this post.

Fine. If ancient mythologies must be known on the grounds that they are sources for innumerable allusions, then Homer’s influence is no less significant. The Ionian poet as a man is a mystery. Even his actual existence is doubted. The story of the composition, preservation, and function of “Homer” among the ancient Greeks is interesting in its own right, and is told with clarity uncompromised by brevity in . . . Benét’s.

We begin to suspect that the influence of the ancients runs deep in our literature. Plutarch, who lived in the first century of the Common Era, is best known as a biographer. It’s an irony of history and of literature that little is known about Plutarch himself—no biographer for the biographer. Shakespeare made use of Plutarch in two of his great plays. (Plutarch was, by the way, a master of the personal essay, and his compendium, the Moralia, has survived to please readers to this day.)

So far, Dirda’s choices are obvious. Of course Dante. But why the Inferno and not the whole the the Divine Comedy? Dirda doesn’t declare. So let’s speculate. The Inferno is the first part of the Divine Comedy. So maybe you read the first part and can’t put it down. Or you do put it down, but you’ve had enough Dante for the purposes envisioned by Dirda. Imaginative writing about hell does make for scintillating writing. For some, heaven is boring in comparison, and a proffered reason for indifference about the soul’s destiny. Strange logic.

Next in line:

I confess that I was initially surprised by this entry from the early Middle Ages. But I shouldn’t have been. This is our source for Ali Baba, Aladdin and his Magic Lamp, Sinbad the Sailor, and the phrase “Open Sesame” (which appeals to our get-rich-quick aspirations). The story of Sultan Shahriar and his clever wife Shaharazad is endlessly intriguing. But a guide to The Arabian Nights would be useful, if only because of its length.

The Middle Ages brings to mind the next fairly obvious choice:

  • Thomas Malory, Le Morte D’Arthur (tales of King Arthur and his knights)

Seeing the Monty Python movie is no substitute for reading the book. Take my word for it. But it does give a sense of the book that is somewhat surprising. (Take that with a grain of salt.) The written tales were probably composed in prison by a chap who commended the ideals  of chivalry and was notorious for violating those same ideals. Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was very much taken with these tales, and transcribed them into epic poetry in his Idylls of the King. Here is a clear case where one legendary author, the Victorian poet Tennyson, is understood better against background knowledge of a 15th century author of legend.

You knew he had to show up on the list eventually, and if you’ve been following the chronology, you may have suspected his appearance at any moment—William Shakespeare.

Some of these have been quite respectably adapted for film. Hamlet, starring Mel Gibson (1990) finally made sense of “words, words, words” to me. The Orson Welles film Chimes at Midnight (1965), featuring Welles as Falstaff and John Gielgud as Henry IV, was a favorite of Welles and is generally thought to be one of his greatest movies.

There have been a dozen or more adaptations of King Lear. Most celebrated is the 1983 version starring Laurence Olivier and Dianna Rigg. Another cinematic reprise is planned. How would you like to see Naomi Watts, Keira Knightley, and Gwyneth Paltrow as the three daughters of King Lear, played by Anthony Hopkins? It’s in the works. So now is an especially auspicious time to have a read of the original King Lear.

Film or television adaptations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream were released in 1935, 1968, 1996, 1999, 2002, and 2005. Enough said.

An adaptation of The Tempest is said to be in production. It won’t be the first. The Tempest was first “screened” in 1905, in a two-and-a-half minute production. The play enjoyed a science fiction adaptation in 1956 in the film The Forbidden Planet. Other adaptations were screened in 1982, 1991, 1992 (in animation that is faithful to Shakespeare).

These works by Shakespeare are immortal. The enjoyment of a worthy film adaptation is enriched by a reading of Shakepeare himself.

Michael Dirda’s list continues. But here the entries shade into the controversial.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra introduced his dubious but endearing hero, the Man of La Mancha, in two volumes (1605 and 1616). Cervantes is credited by many as the first modern novelist. Since he died in 1616, that’s quite a distinction. The only thing controversial about including Don Quixote on Dirda’s short list is that the list is so short. Some would argue that the inclusion of Don Quixote obliges the inclusion of some other great work not on the list. But the fact is, this grand novel supremely fits Dirda’s criterion. If you disagree, you’re tilting at windmills.

A shade more controversial are

and

Defoe wrote something like 250 works. They call that prolific. Businessman, journalist, government representative, spy, possibly even double agent, but best known for his novel Robinson Crusoe, or The Life and Strange Surprising Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner. Through this depiction of a solitary figure stranded on an island, we learn how noble men might conduct themselves under such conditions. Crusoe is an admirable figure, with lessons to teach us all. Who hasn’t imagined what it would be like, what we would do, what we would become, if we were to live in such forced seclusion?

Swift was a genius. As evidence for this, I take the liberty of quoting:

Gulliver’s Travels is perhaps the sole major work in all English literature that has continuously led a double life: it has been at once one of the most glamorous of children’s adventure stories and one of the most pungent critiques of humanity addressed to the mature imagination. This almost incredible marriage of opposites is possible because in the main the disturbing satire for adults lurks inconspicuously behind the pleasantly exciting façade of the explorer’s tale; the child can rarely see behind the façade, and the adult can never cease seeing behind it or trying to pierce through it. Further, there are times when Swift is entirely concerned with the façade—of the elaboration of the details of the story for its own sake . . . and the presence of such passages assists the young reader—or the unperceptive reader generally—to take the whole story at the simplest level of meaning. . . . Swift’s obvious enjoyment of playing the game—of unusual sizes, mysterious phenomena, and strangely shaped creatures—gives zest to his narrative without in any way impeding him when he chooses to make the game philosophical. (The Reader’s Companion to World Literature, 226)

Dirda’s inclusion of Gulliver’s Travels is vindicted by the suggestion that this satire “draws upon at least five traditions of world literature,” and the claim that “the use of fantasy for serious statement, virtually eliminated by two centuries of emphasis upon realism, is reappearing in our own day” (The Reader’s Companion to World Literature, 229).

Dirda goes on to add items undeniably suited to his premise. But these, I confess, lie at the periphery of my own reading interests:

and

Fairy tales and folk tales. Their influence has been great. My interest is negligible. For the record, the noted study of folklore and human society is James Frazer’s The Golden Bough.

The final three works are perhaps the most controversial choices. Again, one could argue that some other work is more worthy of inclusion on such a list.

I believe a rationale may be built for each of these entries. Notice, Jane Austin is the only woman to be valorized on the basis of Dirda’s criterion. Some readers might object to this. I know some writers would have filled in with other great female authors just to avoid the appearance of impropriety and escape censure by enforcers of political correctness. But this is Dirda’s list.

There should be considerable pride in and no prejudice against the admission of Jane Austin to the august company of writers of seminal importance. (I hope that doesn’t sound like a bad pun or a contradiction in terms.) In 2003, the BBC sponsored a program called The Big Read, in quest of “the nation’s best-loved novel.” Pride and Prejudice was voted #2, after Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. I suspect many titles voted onto the Top 100 list for The Big Read found their way there with the help of recent cinematic adaptations. But Dirda’s basis for including Jane Austin’s novel isn’t current popularity but lasting influence in the field of literature.

Lewis Carroll has to be acknowledged, even by someone without predilections for his plotting and style. Alice in Wonderland falls into that class of fairy tales and folklore that have little appeal for me.

As for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, I’m completely sympathetic with ranking it high on a list of entertaining and well-crafted fiction. I would even consider bringing Holmes along for my island exile. I’m less sure of the application of Michael Dirda’s criterion for educating ourselves in preparation for mastery of the world’s great literature. Doyle’s imagination, plotting, and writing style are both creditable and inimitable. But there are others. Agatha Christie has sold better—much better, in fact. Edgar Allen Poe is the acknowledged inventor of the mystery story, and is the namesake for the Edgar Award in mystery fiction. I suppose that Doyle gets the nod because Sherlock Holmes is the paradigmatic sleuth, the one who comes to mind first when that special expertise is needed. Fair enough.

So there you have it. A criterion and a list. I’ve tried to make sense of Dirda’s choices. Using his criterion, and limited to sixteen items, I think he succeeds.

Related Posts by Doug Geivett:

“Batman and Friends”: A Discussion Guide


morrissuperheroes-and-philosophyTom Morris and Matt Morris are the editors of a a book called Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way (Open Court 2005). Matt’s own chapter (pages 102-117) is titled “Batman and Friends: Aristotle and the Dark Knight’s Inner Circle.” I created this discussion guide, based on Matt’s chapter, for my course on Faith, Film and Philosophy.

Read pages 102-105 and answer questions (1) through (4):

  1. What explains the main title of this essay, “Batman and Friends”?
  2. Morris writes that “Batman is often thought of as the most solitary superhero.” Do you agree with this assessment? How does this set things up for the main theme of Morris’s chapter?
  3. The chapter sketches Aristotle’s three-fold analysis of friendship as developed in the Nichomachean Ethics. What three types of friendship does Aristotle describe? What is your assessment of Aristotle’s analysis? Is it plausible? Is it comprehensive? Do you have friendships of each kind?
  4. Morris uses the Aristotelian analysis of friendship as a template for studying Batman’s closest relationships. Before reading Morris’s discussion of Batman’s relationships, write down your own thoughts about Batman’s relationships. What are his primary relationships? How would you describe each relationship in terms of Aristotle’s three-fold analysis of friendship?

aristotleRead pages 105-115 and answer these questions:

  1. Which of Batman’s relationships does Morris consider in terms of the Aristotelian account of friendship? How does Morris classify each relationship? Do you agree with his classification? If you disagree, explain.
  2. Is there anyone else who is closely related to Batman who is not considered by Morris in this essay? If so, identify the person or people you’re thinking of. What does Aristotle’s analysis of friendship imply about the relationship(s) you have in mind?
  3. What is Morris’s primary thesis in this essay? What is your evaluation of Morris’s thesis?

Now read pages 115-117 and answer the following questions:

  1. In this section of his essay, Morris writes about the “elusiveness” of a certain kind of friendship. How does he explain this elusiveness in Batman’s case? Do you agree that Batman is incapable of this kind of friendship? Explain your answer.
  2. If you’ve seen one or both of the most recent Batman movies, Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008), what features of these films support or conflict with Morris’s analysis of Batman’s friendships?posterbatman-beginsthe_dark_knight_poster
  3. Who has more or less authentic relationships with others, Batman or Bruce Wayne? Explain your answer.
  4. Would it ever be possible for Batman to have the kind of friendship that Aristotle admires most? Explain your answer.
  5. Morris identifies three things that can happen when we “philosophically address art, whether it’s a novel, a comic, a painting, or a film” (see pp. 116-17). What are these three things? What does Morris say is the most important contribution philosophical analysis of art can make? Do you believe that philosophy can play this role? In his use of philosophy to analyze Batman’s character and relationships, does Morris succeed in showing that philosophy can make this kind of contribution?
  6. Morris concludes with an admonition. Think about your own ambitions and sense of calling. If you were to follow Morris’s admonition, what would it mean for you? Be as specific as possible. Does Morris’s counsel seem like good advice to you? Explain your answer.

Copyright © 2009 by R. Douglas Geivett

Doubt (Film): A Discussion Guide


doubtposter081

Doubt (USA, 2008)

Philip Seymour Hoffman and Meryl Streep put in great performances in the new film Doubt, based on a play of the same title written by John Patrick Shanley. Shanley wrote the screenplay for and directed the film. Here are some discussion questions for the film. (These are based on an assignment I’ve developed for my course Faith, Film and Philosophy.)

  1. Why is Doubt a suitable title for this film? There may be several reasons.
  2. This film is an adaptation of John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt. Have you read the play? Have you seen the play performed? If you’ve read or seen the play, what is your evaluation of the film as an adaptation?
  3. What is the opening scene of the film? Having seen the whole film, what makes this a fitting start?
  4. Where does Father Flynn get his ideas for his sermons? What is the theme of his first sermon? His second sermon? His farewell sermon? What is the source of each of these sermons?
  5. Sister James asks Father Flynn if the sermon about gossip was directed at anyone in particular? He replies with a question, “What do you think?” Neither question is answered directly. So, what do you think?
  6. doubt-hoffmanWhat do you think of Father Flynn’s description of gossip and his method of illustrating this vice? Is it effective? Does it give you greater insight into the nature of this common but malicious practice? Have you ever been the victim of gossip? Did it have an unfair effect on your reputation? How did you respond? Did you do something about it? What should a person do when someone with influence has spread rumors about him or her to others?
  7. What does Sister Aloysius think Father Flynn has done wrong? Does she have a specific allegation of wrongdoing? What is it? If Sister Aloysius candidly agrees that she has no evidence and cannot prove her allegations against Father Flynn, why is she so certain that he has done something wrong? Is it true that she has no evidence? Are there moments when you suspect that Sister Aloysius is right to suspect Father Flynn? If so, when, during the film, do you feel this way?
  8. Sister Aloysius walks with Mrs. Miller in the cold weather toward the place where Mrs. Miller works as a cleaning lady. What do we learn about Mrs. Miller’s son, James, from their conversation? What effect does this have on the Sister’s suspicions about Father Flynn?
  9. Immediately following the conversation between Sister Aloysius and Mrs. Miller, there’s a gust of wind that vehemently lifts and swirls the fall leaves around the Sister. There is something unnatural about this. Perhaps it is symbolic. Can you relate this occurrence to any other features of the film that explain it significance?
  10. While coaching the boys in basketball, Father Flynn notices that some of the boys have dirty fingernails. He stresses the importance of having clean nails and shows them his own, saying, “I like mine a little long.” What’s significant about this moment in the film? Recall that Sister Aloysius later orders Father Flynn to cut his nails. What does this business about Father Flynn’s nails have to do with the themes of the film?
  11. Father Flynn thinks things should be a little more relaxed and friendly at the school. You might suspect that his theological views are also more lax and progressive. Is this accurate? Are there indications that Father Flynn’s theological beliefs are traditional or more progressive (i.e., liberal)?
  12. Ultimately, Father Flynn leaves the parish to become pastor of another congregation. Why does he leave? Does his departure mean that he is guilty of wrongdoing? Sister Aloysius remarks that his resignation is proof of his guilt. Do you think she might be right? Suppose Father Flynn has done nothing wrong in his relationship with the boy named James. And suppose he’s done nothing wrong with other boys at other parishes.
  13. How does Sister Aloysius justify her lie about speaking with a nun about Father Flynn’s behavior at his previous parish? Could a lie of this sort ever be justified for a person in her position? Why hasn’t Sister Aloysius made the phone call she claims she has made?
  14. The Oxford English Dictionary defines “innuendo” as “an oblique hint, indirect suggestion; an allusive remark concerning a person or thing, especially one of a depreciatory kind.” Consider the role of innuendo in this film. The accusations of Sister Aloysius are indirect and yet pointed and insistent. Father Flynn’s response is often diffident and cautious. Sister James is coy. Why are the themes of the film handled in this way, rather than more directly?
  15. How does the film end? Are you surprised by the confession made by Sister Aloysius? Is this a satisfying ending? Is there any sense in which Sister Aloysius, stern as she is, is a sympathetic character? Explain.
  16. What does this film say about doubt? What else is this film about? What lessons does this film have for the viewer?
  17. Are there people you know who would enjoy seeing this film? Why do you think they would enjoy it? Are there people you know who would not enjoy seeing this film? Why do you think they would not enjoy it?
  18. doubt-streepList other films you’ve seen starring Meryl Streep in a lead role. Compare Streep’s performance in Doubt with her performance in these other films. On a scale of 1 to 100, how would you rate her performance in Doubt in comparison with her performance in other films? Alternatively, rank her performance in this and other films by placing them in order, starting with the best and working down the scale.
  19. Do the same for Philip Seymour Hoffman that you did for Streep in the previous question.

For the highly-touted play from Amazon, click here.

Copyright © 2009 by R. Douglas Geivett

Adam Sandler Rides Again


bedtime_storiesHe rides a red horse, a motorcycle, a chariot, and (almost) drives a red Ferrari. Adam Sandler is in fine form with his usual lack of finesse as comic hero Skeeter Bronson in Bedtime Stories (distributed by Walt Disney Pictures). Sandler’s basic costume is a handyman uniform. But the actor is kept busy changing in and out of cowboy chaps and gladiator garb for period performances of his imagination.

As children, Skeeter and his sister, Wendy, had helped their father run a splendidly modest motel. Marty Bronson had been a wonderful father, indicated especially by his storytelling powers. But, as fate would have it, he was a lousy businessman. Of economic necessity, Marty signed his cherished family business over to a charmer named Barry Nottingham. Young Skeeter was witness to this unfortunate transaction, and the insincere promise from Nottingham that the boy would run the place, if he chose to, once he was old enough.

The story gets going some years later, when Nottingham emerges as an unscrupulous tycoon with an odd aversion to ordinary germs and a bad-girl daughter who is inexplicably chased about by admiring paparazzi. (Think Paris Hilton.) Nottingham retains Skeeter, not to run the company as promised, but as chief fix-it man. Responsibility for managing the firm is left to a conniving fellow named Kendall, who courts Nottingham’s daughter, Violet, in a scheme to succeed the aging tycoon.

Just when old man Nottingham has announced that Kendall is to be promoted, and Skeeter concludes that life’s true stories have no good endings, Wendy, now single mother of two, has a favor to ask. She needs Skeeter to be night-time sitter for the children while she’s away for several days to interview for a job. Skeeter has no natural affinity for Bobbi and Patrick, and no idea how he’s supposed to keep them entertained when they’ve lived in a protective bubble—without television, camping experiences, and the like.

One of the best scenes of the film captures the first night Skeeter has charge of the children. They ship off to bed happily enough. But Skeeter, they tell him, must read them a bedtime story. He samples the titles of books in their bedroom collection. The titles humorously reveal the uptight habits of their mother, obviously stricken with politically correct inhibitions about the environment and personal safety. To avoid rehearsing this “communist” propaganda with niece and nephew, Skeeter proposes that he make up a story, like his old man did when he was a kid.

Naturally, the movie revolves around these bedtime stories. Instantly warming to the idea, the children insist on modified endings to Skeeter’s tales, which are told with gusto and feature himself as the conspicuous hero. Amazingly (and this we know already from the previews for the film), events during the next day parallel the story line, conclusion and all, of the previous night’s tale.

It’s never sorted out how these daily coincidences are fated to occur. The family guinea pig, a recurring presence in the film, has something to do with it, apparently. What that is, you might say, is a lacuna in the story. At any rate, the coincidence is plain, and once he catches on, Skeeter takes pains to arrange for a day that will turn to his advantage with the lovely Violet Nottingham and the graces of her doddering dad. Adventures ensue, but never with the blessed results eagerly anticipated by Skeeter.

Meanwhile, the children are tended during the day by a wholesome female friend of Wendy’s. Jill harbors understandable misgivings about Skeeter, whose sensibilities tend toward the reckless and irresponsible. The moderate tension that defines their relationship is one of several plot twists that must be resolved for the movie to come to a complete and satisfying ending. (This probably makes the movie sound more subtle and sophisticated than it is.)

While watching this movie, you may be reminded, as I was, of two other fabulous movies (by “fabulous” I mean having no basis in reality)—The Princess Bride and Night at the Museum. For one scene in particular, and a good one at that, you may recall the classic film Ben Hur (which was loosely based on a true story of some significance).

With two exceptions, the characters are interesting enough. There’s Violet Nottingham—nice on the eyes, but not nice—and Jill—easy on the eyes, and very nice. Violet is played by Teresa Palmer, 22-year-old Australian starlet with the possibility of a future in film. Kerry Russell, who plays Jill, will be recognized as the more experienced actress with significant roles in more substantial movies: as Lyla Novacek in August Rush (2007), the waitress, Jenna Hunterson, in Waitress (2007), and lead character Katie Armstrong in Rohtenburg (also known as Grimm Love) (2006)—recognized, that is, if you’ve seen any of these films. Russell is probably best known as the empathetic victim of a horrible explosion early in the film Mission: Impossible III (2006). Her performance in that role was brief, but very compelling.

British actor Richard Griffiths (b. 1947) is pleasing as Barry Nottingham. The comic lilt of his performance was, I’m sure, enhanced for me by my acquaintance with someone who is rather Nottingham-esque. Griffiths’ claim to fame is as Uncle Vernon Dursley in the Harry Potter series. (An interesting fact about Griffiths is that his parents were both deaf; but in Bedtime Stories there’s no obvious evidence that this contributed to his acting repertoire.)

The children, Bobbi and Patrick, are played by Laura Ann Kesling and Jonathan Morgan Heit, respectively. Both do a swell job. Kesling, for whom this is her film debut, I believe, is better than swell and doubtless has a future in acting. Her apparently spontaneous peels of bemused laughter are endearing. They may well be truly spontaneous, which would be a credit to Adam Sandler as a demonstrated laugh-maker by nature.

adam_sandlerSandler has more movies to his credit than I’ve seen. But of those I’ve seen, he’s at his best in Bedtime Stories. (It should be noted that he is also producer of this film, which may account for much of its comic genius.) Here, Sandler isn’t slapstick funny. He isn’t funny for funny’s sake. Funny seems to come naturally to his character as a means of dealing with the pain of loneliness and ignominy. But the almost incessant playfulness has understated moments, and in general it doesn’t betray the deep bitterness many would feel in his situation. There are worse ways of dealing with disappointments in life than to make light of their occurrence. I like this complexity about the character, even if the effect was utterly serendipitous.

The two fiends in the film are Guy Pearce as Kendall, the scheming hotel general manager, and Lucy Lawless as Aspen, co-conspirator and manager on duty. Pearce and Lawless (how apropos is that pair of names?) have the look of simpleton villains who are utterly unsympathetic. The name “Aspen” speaks with loud innuendo; I haven’t the foggiest association to make with “Kendall.”

Guy Pearce starred in the very dark film Memento (2000), and was cast as a drag queen in Priscilla: Queen of the Desert (1994). So he is, you might say, “versatile.” In Bedtime Stories, he looks and acts pathetic, as I imagine he’s supposed to. But during screenwriting I would have suggested a different permutation of pathetic. He looks, sounds, and acts silly in a way that loses the scent of funny most dominant in the movie.

Lucy Lawless’s liability is her casting alongside Pearce qua Kendall-permutation-of-pathetic. I want to say that the inane visual and verbal exchanges between Aspen and Kendall insult the capacity of today’s audience to take the bad guys a little more seriously. But this isn’t a serious film, so that, in itself, isn’t a serious criticism. Still, something’s not quite right about the style of humor attempted in the portions of the script assigned to these unfortunate actors. I do think it’s a problem with the script. (Note: Lucy Lawless played D’Anna Biers, Number 3 in Battlestar Gallactica.)

On the whole, though, the script is a good specimen of its type. Audiences still appreciate the kind of humor executed here. And what they like best, from the response I heard in the theater, is comic acting and dialogue that presupposes a reasonably intelligent audience—that is to say, an audience that can discern the referents of subtle allusions and modulate their laugh response to the shifting characteristics of comedic elements in a film.

This film has something else going for it in the comedic category: plot twist and artistic conceit. Nah, forget plot twist. That refers to the threads of the story and their connections. Artistic conceit is something else. It has to do with the vehicle used for conveying the plot and its various twists. Here the conceit is creative and naturally conducive to comedic rendition—the fulfillment in real life of stories told on the eve of their occurrence. The technique sometimes buys two laughs for the price of one, as when Skeeter resuscitates the “big harry guy on the beach.” Eavesdropping on Skeeter’s bedtime stories, you try to imagine how their fulfillment will play out, and usually you’re mistaken about some relevant detail. For someone with an uncanny ability to see what’s coming, for almost any genre of film, that’s a plus.

Bedtime Stories gets off to a promising start by cutting quickly to the grownup stage of Skeeter’s life and establishing his character with a three-way conversation at the hotel registration desk—between Skeeter, Aspen, and an aging alcoholic guest who swears that the mini bar in her room was raided by a Leprechaun. Here we’re introduced to the primary tension, the predominant tone of humor, and Skeeter’s affability despite painful exploitation.

There are quirky moments and unaccountable details to be noted. I’ve already mentioned the metaphysically curious causal function of the family guinea pig. The narrative emphasis given to the creature’s bulging eyes is a bit peculiar, too. The timetable for events is highly compressed; events it would take months, if not years, to unfold transpire in the span of a few days. This may be necessary to ensure that Wendy hasn’t abandoned her children indefinitely. But this sort of fabulosity is out of sync with the central conceit of the movie.

Some of the dialogue is a little offbeat. When Skeeter asks Jill, during what is supposed to be a magical moment, and as if in a trance, “Are you the fairest maiden of the land?” she replies with self-effacing candor, “Do you mean, like, the fairest in checkers?” (or something to that effect). Huh?

Another oddment of the film: it begins and ends with a narrator, who happens to be Skeeter’s father, Marty (played and voiced by Jonathan Pryce). But Marty has gone to his reward, so how is this possible? This, too, is fabulous. But, again, it’s fabulosity is of a different cut than is realized fairly effectively with the bedtime story “fulfillments.” If Marty Bronson’s narrative role makes intentional sense on some subtle level, it’s lost on me.

More important to the story line, but not high profile, is the part played by Courtney Cox. It’s nice to see Ms. Cox in a wholesome role, as Wendy, the politically correct single mom. In the end, Wendy has a private moment with Skeeter, when she’s repentant about her stiffness as the older sister who couldn’t let her hair down. I suppose it’s a fantasy, but I like to think there’s a latent message here that the whole  politically-correct-environmentalist-zeal-and-health-craze-thing is a tad overdone these days.

I almost forgot to mention Mickey, played by Russell Brand. This good-natured good buddy of Skeeter’s is exotically inept. He suffers from “sleep panic disorder”—among other things, apparently. But his “translation skills” come in handy at a crucial moment when Skeeter must impress Mr. Nottingham with a superior plan to take the dynasty to the next level of success. And Russell Brands’ costumes are among the most interesting.

Adam Shankman directed. This is one talented guy. He directed and choreographed Hairspray (2007), and is doing the same for a sequel. Box Office Mojo lists Hairspray fourth in gross receipts (nearly $120 million) among live action musicals produced since 1974. He’s said to be working up a Sarah Palin inspired TV series about the female mayor of a small town (in development at Fox and tentatively titled “Cadillac Ranch”).

dont-stop-believingI have no recollection of the musical score, which is film-speak that seems a little highbrow for this kind of movie. I did pay attention to the music that accompanies the closing credits. It’s the 80s hit song by rock band Journey, “Don’t Stop Believing.”

As for the editing, it’s critical to what I’ve been calling the conceit of the film, and it’s handled pretty well. Bicyclists decked in racing gear are smoothly morphed into cowboys galloping on stallions, for example, while our hero and his girl race the opposite direction, alternately on motorcycle and horseback. The composite sequence that completes “the arc of the story” (something that would have been appreciated by Mickey, the brainless buddy) is a clever resumé of the bedtime stories. It moves toward a predictable but fitting victory for the good guys.

Bottom Line:

On the downside, the villains lack that special je-ne-sais-quoi, the narrator has inexplicable talents for telling stories from the grave, and events happen in fast-forward. The end of the movie is very nearly ruined by a reprise of the Kendall-Aspen theme that overstates their humiliation. But there’s more upside than downside to Bedtime Stories. It’s hard for a movie to be this kind of funny today. If memory serves, Night at the Museum (2006) scampered after the same funny bone, but I think with less success. Movies in this genre (some would say “of this ilk”) don’t generally fare well with critics. But if you laugh pretty consistently and groan only occasionally for one hour and thirty-five minutes, the movie fulfills its objective.

“My Heart Belongs to Edward”?


twilight_book_coverI know you’ve been wondering why teenage girls have crushes on vampires. After all, the four-installment Twilight series is the latest reading sensation for that social niche. And some of you have teenage daughters whose fancy for the undead has you flummoxed.

Well, if you really must know, Caitlin Flanagan may be the place to turn. In her recent Atlantic essay “What Girls Want” she explains how Twilight taps into “the complexities of female adolescent desire.” I sincerely hope there are exceptions to her generalizations. But her multifacted theory is as plausible as any we’re likely to encounter.

Back in the Saddle


For the past two weeks I’ve been off-blog. Two weeks ago I was in Birmingham, Alabama to debate Michael Shermer on the question, “Does God exist?” Then I travelled to Spokane, Washington for a conference on “Faith, Film and Philosophy,” co-hosted by Gonzaga and Whitworth Universities. The title of my presentation was “Big Ideas on the Big Screen—How Arguments Work in Film.”

When the conference ended, my daughter caught up with me and we flew over to Seattle, then drove to the Olympic Peninsula to do some writing without distraction. I worked on an essay on “Death and Immortality.” She worked on two novels she’s been drafting.

Today was the first day back on my motorcycle, a ritual that comes before blogging. With that out of the way, I’m ready to log on.

With the election past, and the unctuous posturing of the media, I think my blogging in the immediate future will move into other areas. I’ll still find it irresistable to post comments on the media, political happenings, and media coverage of political happenings. But there’s so much more to think about!

Catch ya later!

From Unbox to Amazon Video on Demand


Image representing Amazon Unbox as depicted in...

Image via CrunchBase

I’ve touted Amazon’s Unbox program for video rentals and purchases online. This program just got a new name and a new look. It’s now called Video on Demand.

You can purchase or rent movies and TV episodes. A recently added feature allows you to view the first two minutes of a movie for free before deciding whether to buy or rent. Prices, as you would expect, are very competitive.

I write about film at this blog and elsewhere. When I’m looking for a video, I start with Video on Demand. Their inventory is good and growing. If I can’t find what I’m looking for, I go to Netflix. The local Blockbuster store is my last recourse.

The greatest advantage of Video on Demand is that your selection can be downloaded to your computer or TiVo device. Within minutes you can be watching your choice of video, without leaving home.

To learn more, click here.

If you give it a whirl, let me know what you think.

Reviewer Sought at “Obscure Classics”


Here’s an opportunity to review classic films at a site dedicated to Obscure Classics.

“Have you dreamed of having your reviews and essays featured on our site? Have you fantasized about the enormous fame you’d have if only you could be a member of the Obscure Classics team?

“Well, lucky for you, we’re recruiting! I’m currently looking for one or two people to add to the awesomely awesome team here.”

Go here for details:

Eyewitness Earthquake Report


It’s all over the news. An earthquake of moderate magnitude occurred shortly before noon today in the Los Angeles area. I was at home in Brea working at my desk. The quake is said to have centered in Chino Hills, about 12 miles by road from where I live. As the crow flies, we’re within 10 miles of the epicenter.

My two daughters and our niece were here with me, upstairs from my study. My first reaction was to get to them and gather everyone together.

I’d say the quake was felt at our house for about 20-30 seconds. Some minutes later we felt a distinct but brief aftershock. This quake produced a general shake of our house, and I did wonder while it was happening how long it could continue without causing severe damage to our home. There was a lot of creaking and things were falling from walls and shelves. But we don’t have any visible damage. Most impressive was the sloshing of the water in our in-ground pool.

The initial report was that the earthquake was of a 5.8 magnitude. It’s now been officially designated a 5.4 quake. There are TV news reports of numerous ongoing aftershocks in the Chino Hills area. But we’ve only felt the one. There’s also a report of a fire caused by the quake in the nearby town of La Habra Heights. A Ralph’s market in Diamond Bar, also close by, has closed to assess damage to products and restore order.

News coverage of the event has been interesting. Some of it has been a little melodramatic. But it does inform people about the behavior of earthquakes and remind them of the need for preparedness should there be a more sizable quake in the future.

Now might be a good time to enjoy an earthquake movie! Grab the popcorn and relax while you watch the 1974 film Earthquake, starring Charleton Heston and Ava Gardner, about a quake in Los Angeles that wreaks unimaginable havoc.

No Joke—Morality Matters


My daughter and I planned to see The Dark Knight together. One of my movie buddies, who saw it earlier this week, said I should spend the time some other way because the film was average, at best. Naturally, I had to see for myself. And when my daughter asks me out on a date, how can I refuse?

I kept hearing that the movie is “very dark.” This isn’t a very enlightening summation (no pun intended). In fact, now that I’ve seen the movie, I wouldn’t say that at all.

First, Gotham City is remarkably lit up. It doesn’t have that pervasive seedy look that we naturally associate with the City. It looks like a normal American metropolis—present-day New York, in fact. Doesn’t the director know that Batman movies of the past have uniformly rendered Gotham City gothically? Of course he does. So maybe there’s a message there: a bright and bustling city on the brink of moral chaos . . . . Hmm.

Is city-wide chaos really imminent? The citizens think so; the Joker hopes so. And by the end of the movie there is quite a mess to clean up. The demolition of the General Hospital, the disarray of the police force, panic in the streets, mangled vehicles piled everywhere, the involuted character of the District Attorney, are all powerful symbols of disintegration. Teetering on the brink, however, a deeper truth about Gotham’s citizens is brought to light.

Isn’t that what the Joker believed, that in those final moments, with life in the balance, a person’s true character is revealed?

The Joker’s mind is supposed to be completely inscrutable because there quite literally is no method in his madness. This is how he wants to be known, and this is how he is regarded. He has an appallingly distorted view of the world. We can agree that his childhood experiences contribute significantly to his twisted perspective. He seems genuinely unable to resist his urge to injure others. He is, we imagine, driven by some unintelligible motive. But for all that, the Joker is a calculating individual, with a conception of humanity and our shared moral impulses.

The Joker’s worldview is dark. It is repugnant. But it is not representative. He reasons that the good conduct of individuals in an ordered society is an illusion. There is no goodness, deep down. All people are fundamentally self-interested. The Joker is so sure of this that he fully expects one group of passengers on one ferry to blow up the ferry loaded with other passengers. It doesn’t matter which group prevails, the group of ordinary citizens or the group of convicts. In their heart of hearts, they do not differ. And though they deliberate about saving their own skin at the expense of the others, each group ultimately resists the temptation. Even the convicts, represented by a truly imposing man of criminal bearing, do the right thing. And the Joker is baffled. Batman notices this and rubs it in. It is the most effective means of wounding the Joker: demonstrating that his worldview is simply false.

The Dark Knight is not a dark film. It conveys the hopeful message that morality matters, and that it is within reach. It also reflects the possibility of self-inflicted character deformation. The Joker is not altogether mistaken when he says, “I’m not a monster—I’m just ahead of the curve.” His sinister behavior is the result of habit, fueled by an obsession with his own injuries. He plays the hand he’s been dealt in life with clownish charades of “chance” behavior. His life is tragic, but he is a responsible agent in a morally significant arena.

Unfortunately, the film makes no attempt to explain why morality matters. Being good appears to be a purely secular value. As such, it dangles in suspended animation, rather like the Joker himself, whose fate remains a mystery at the close of The Dark Knight.

My Bucket List


Roger Ebert was offended by the movie The Bucket List. He thought it made a mockery of the seriousness of terminal cancer. Maybe he took the film a little too seriously.

My gripe with the movie is different: while it pays tribute to friendship and its redemptive value, it fails to come to grips with the the real value of an adventurous life. The Jack Nicholson character, true to form, is all about exotic thrills, the rush of adrenalin, and tempting fate. The Morgan Freeman character has more depth, but as a comparison with Nicholson, that’s not saying much. Both men are self-absorbed; neither can place “the list” into the context of purposeful living.

G. K. Chesterton

Today I read these words by G. K. Chesterton: “An adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered. An inconvenience is only an adventure wrongly considered.” Chesterton could see the adventure in the ordinariness of life. Anything can be regarded with the lens of expected surprise. But the inconveniences of life, even the most mundane, afford real opportunities for adventure—a kind of living beyond the ordinary without demanding a change in circumstances. It all depends on perspective.

Today I had an adventure. Not a big, spectacular one that I can check off my own personal bucket list. I had been shopping for something on Craig’s List and had an appointment at a seller’s house. When I rang the doorbell, dogs began barking. Nothing unusual about that. But suddenly, one dog, yelping wildly, sprang through the screen door and lunged at me. As I reared back, the dog grabbed my shirt-tail in his teeth.
I wasn’t injured, but my favorite summer shirt is in tatters.

The adventure potential of this experience really was a matter of perspective. I didn’t like the sudden conversion of my shirt from something that was a pleasure to wear to a rag more worthy of washing the car. But I did feel oddly energized by this close encounter with physical danger. And I can imagine wearing the shirt in future as a badge of courage, so to speak. For a moment I was reminded that real surprises happen. I’m not generally fearful of dogs. And I didn’t have time for fear in this case. The dog—like my own dog, an Australian shepherd—was on me in an instant. But as the dog fled, I felt the exhilaration of a survivor.

In the modern world, we often have to manufacture experiences of that kind. Some go in for extreme sports, others for extreme travel. I like sea kayaking and motorcycling, each activity with its distinctive set of challenges and array of risks. But they aren’t things I have to do, in the utilitarian sense of “have to.” If I have to do them it’s because modern life is a little too humdrum.

Isn’t that why we have “bucket lists,” adventure ticks that we hope to get out of our system before we pass on?

Claudia Root and Jerry Root

Today I had an email message from a good friend who lives in another state. Completely incidental to the message of his email was an attached photo of him and his wife in a bi-plane over the Puget Sound. They’re sporting goggles and leather headgear—and broad smiles, of course—in a tight picture that says, “We’re having a blast, and we’re doing it together!”

I love the Puget Sound, and I love flying. I’ve dreamed of making a pontoon trip there some day. But it never occurred to me to view the San Juan Islands from altitude in a vintage bi-plane. I’ve now added that to my personal bucket list.

But I have another goal, as well—to remember Chesterton’s spin on the ordinary and the inconvenient. With a perspective like that, everyday is a bucket-list kind of day, every day an opportunity to check something off the list that I didn’t know was on it!

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