Last night while driving to the airport to drop off some friends, in the midst of an early-evening rainstorm that was as pleasant as it was unexpected, a woman approached the taxi looking for money, holding what looked to be a dead baby in her arms.
I'm not sure if the child was actually deceased. It was cloudy and dark, and the rain was persistent on the windshield, but still, there was an air of finality about the kid draped across her hands.
I'm telling you, this country...
Sometimes it's tough to take, is what I'm saying.
A squeegee kid in downtown Toronto wiping down your front windshield to make an extra coin is annoying, yes, but it doesn't usually force you into existential conundrums. But a woman wielding a child who, if not dead, is at least a)under age one, and b) seriously, almost mortally sick tapping on your window, looking for change, does, in fact, force you to question the workings of the universe.
This is a somewhat random tangent, but I was reminded, for reasons that are sensible, perhaps, to me and me alone, of a book called EYES WIDE OPEN, a memoir of Stanley Kubrick's final film written by his co-writer on the picture. It's an interesting read, although how accurate it is I can't quite judge; there are transcripts of endless late-night conversations between the filmmaker and the screenwriter, but I remain suspicious of their authenticity. Did he tape record these conversations? Are they half-remembered reconstructions from a vantage point of two years later? This remains unsaid.
Point is, the writer remarks on how he brought up the film version of SCHINDLER'S LIST, after Kubrick commented that there were no good films on the Holocaust. (Little known fact: Kubrick was actually Jewish -- but, like Norman Mailer, is one of the few twentieth century famous artists who did not make Judaism itself centrepieces of their art. Another little known fact: Kubrick, who was notorious for his refusal to fly, leading even his Vietnam-era picture FULL METAL JACKET to be shot in England, where the American filmmaker had settled, actually had a pilot's license. This kind of trivia fascinates me. Especially because I think Kubrick is a genius.)
"You think SCHINDLER'S LIST was about the Holocaust?" Kubrick asked. "SCHINDLER'S LIST was about six thousand Jews that lived. The Holocaust was about six million Jews that died."
And I can't for the life of me ascertain why, precisely, I thought of that comment last night, watching this poor woman with her probably-dead child knock on a taxi window, perhaps using the corpse for sympathy.
But I think it has something do with failure.
Most people's lives are failures. Most people's lives are wretched. I'm not saying there isn't joy, and family, and pockets of contentment. It's just, after two years of living in a country that is the tenth worst in the world for women and children to live in, I've come to the conclusion that most people's lives are, in fact, very, very morbid and short and painful. It's just a fact. We're insulated from it back home, sheltered from it, but here, man, it confronts you. It shoves a dead baby in your face and says: Help me, motherfucker. Help me.
I think Kubrick was on to something. I'm not saying that I don't like SCHINDLER'S LIST, because I do think that it's a great film, and Spielberg's a great filmmaker, one who consistently shines the light into people's lives and elevates them.
But Kubrick was a darker soul. He understood that the true story of life in all its macabre glory is not about those who succeed. It's about all of those who fail. Is to make a film about the Holocaust which highlights the survival of a few immoral considering that the multitude that perished?
I don't know. I don't think so. Art has many chambers; some feature redemption, while others embrace nihilism.
But either way, sometimes life -- not often, but sometimes -- trumps art and invokes emotions that can't be replicated on a silver screen.
I was in a car last night, headed for the airport. A lady approached the car, in the rain, holding what may or may not have been a dead child, hoping that it would score her some extra cash.
I can only quote Morgan Freeman quoting Hemingway at the end of SEVEN, which I, in turn, have quoted before, yes, but man, it seems more and more apt. It's something that I have to cling to every now and then, when the night is long and the moon is gone and I realize that life is indifferent, absolutely, relentlessly indifferent, to who we are and what we want. Life couldn't give a fuck.
The Hemingway quote: "The world is a beautiful place, and it's worth fighting for."
Morgan Freeman said: "I agree with the second part."