Monday, October 17, 2005


Simple things are better. This is what I'm starting to believe. Simple food, simple sun, simple stories. We live in an age that appreciates complexity and endorses the maze. I like mazes too. But in the end mazes get you to the same place as a straight line.

This is not to say that simple things have to be simplistic. I would even argue that the more clearly and simply something is told, expressed and conveyed, the more complex it is. Once things are streamlined, we retain the essence but lose the appendages. The absence of those offshoots thus allows us to view what we see and hear with an imaginative exploration that would be unnecessary had everything been explained and dissected in exhaustion.

Think of Million Dollar Baby. Love it or hate it, the movie has a pretty simple story. A young boxer coached by an aging boxer. Tragedy results. People are changed. A lot of people who slagged the film slagged it because they had seen it all before, it wasn't original, yada yada yada. Well, perhaps. But as John Irving once said, after you forget the machinations of the plot, what you remember about a story is the emotional resonance that the characters created for you. You may not remember what they did or how they did it, but you remember the feelings the author instigated in your own heart. I can't remember scene-by-scene what happened in Million Dollar Baby, but boy do I remember the effect. Why? Ordinary people in a difficult situation. Bad things happen to them. I feel their pain, as Clinton would say. Simple.

It's not cool or hip or fashionable to acknowledge the simplicity of sentiment, but it's sentimentality that makes the world go 'round. I sometimes think that people don't apply the same standards to art that they accept in life. Meaning, we demand that art be rigorous and cynical, deep and multi-layered, complex and multi-faceted, but what moves us the most in life? The homemade birthday card your kid gives you for your birthday. The rise of the sun on a winter morn. The feel of the first raindrop on your palm. This is what makes our day and deepens our lives. The simple things.

I like a long book better than a short book. I like big movies with big themes and extended running times. But what I remember most from these experiences are the simple scenes and moments that serve as anchor for all that has come before or will follow. Kevin Costner choking up in the courtroom in J.F.K. Rocky pointing out that the trunks on his picture don't match the real shorts he will wear, and the promoter telling him: "It doesn't really matter, does it, Rock? I'm sure you'll give 'em a good show." The look in Eastwood's eyes when he realizes what Hillary Swank is asking him to do. Kevin Costner at the end of No Way Out wistfully quoting exiled Russian writer Solzhenitsyn, thereby succinctly explaining his entire rationale for remaining on the run throughout the film. Al Pacino in The Godather Part III shly telling the priest at the Vatican that it's been a long time since his last confession. Small moments. Simple moments.

The only ones worth remembering, really.


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Scott said...

It's so funny. I was just planning to construct my own private road over here. Somebody must have been reading my mind...

Christa said...

This is all so true, Scott. My son saying he loves me is so simple and yet so incredible I will never forget that little voice and the feeling that goes with hearing those three words. I love that you quoted Clinton! When I quote that one in class (with the hand gestures, of course) the students just look at me blankly, making me feel like a lunatic. Come on, it wasn't even that long ago! The movie scenes you bring attention to are all fabulous as well. You picked some great ones and I agree with your choices.

Jim said...

You're in luck Scott.Stallone has
announced that he's making RockyVI
and is going back to what worked
in the original movie which is
the only one I really liked.I don't
know how he's going to pull off getting back in the ring at his
age but I won't care as long as he
gets some pet turtles again.The
simple things are what stick with
you when you get older.

Scott said...

I agree, Jim. The realist in me cringes at the thought of another ROCKY; the kid in me celebrates.

I actually think the first and second one are really good -- well written, emotional, and simple. (I also think the fifth one served as an able send-off to the series, but I guess that's a moot point now.) I've even come to appreciate the ludicrousness of ROCKY IV -- Rocky raised to the level of national superhero, which was overblown, unsubtle, and, in a comic-book, melodramatic kind of way, very, very effective as a metaphor for U.S.-Soviet relations.

I also think Rocky is the only character that Stallone was born to play and born to be. He's a sensitive writer when writing Rocky, and a pretty good director, so I look forward to it. I'd never thought I'd see another one, so why not hope for the best, right? (Although the situation is getting perilously close to the poster that was displayed in AIRPLANE II which showed an ancient oriental man wearing boxing gloves under the heading ROCKY VIIIIIIII. That shows that they thought the sequels were getting out of hand almost twenty-five years ago!)

Amanda said...

yes, i totally agree with the subtle things in film...i love scenes where you barely hear what someone says and it ends up being hilarious, or when there is just a hint of romance that signals that possibility is just around the corner. love it.

Le Will said...

Did you see Garden State? It is about those very things, enjoying the simple pleasures in life. It is refreshing to see an earnest movie rather than the usual cynicism about life.