Tuesday, June 22, 2004

Two Reviews

I saw The Terminal tonight. For a summary of the premise, the New York Times description suffices:
Viktor Navorski (Tom Hanks), on a long-anticipated visit to New York from the imaginary Eastern European republic of Krakozia, arrives at J.F.K. just as a military coup abolishes his country's government and renders him effectively stateless. A complicated (and somewhat implausible) web of bureaucratic glitches and regulations strands him at the airport, where he remains for nearly a year, unable to board a flight home or hop a cab into Manhattan but innocent of anything that would warrant his detention.


The Terminal is funny, but it is not a comedy. The chuckles it elicited were not at the degradation of the characters, but at the cleverness of the plot and the characters in it. One example: Navorski notices that the return of a Smarte Carte yields a reward of one quarter, so he finds SmarteCartes and brings them back to the rack, thus earning his food money.

The conclusion is inevitable, but that is not the point. Along the way, we find out about the characters (especially Navorski) and their real goals, which become the new plot, a subtle and seamless shift from the movie's rather mechanical opening plot.

The one problem I have with the movie is the issue of compassion. Compassion is talked up as a great virtue, and it is strongly implied that the director of airport security (the closest thing to a villain in this movie) should have just let Navorski through. I should think that after 9/11, people would have dropped this sort of dangerous frivolity. You can be compassionate all you want, but don't be compassionate -- don't be generous -- with my life! Mine! Do you hear me? I have the right -- the absolute right -- to life, regardless what some unfortunate foreigner has to endure at an airport. There is legitimate argument about whether our security measures are necessary and useful and efficient or not. But compassion has nothing to do with it. Security is the one job where you cannot, as the movie suggests, bend the rules.

There was an easy way to end this movie; the "villain" was clearly an honorable man, and it wouldn't have been implausible for his to sign the document. (no more details so I'm not a spoiler.) Indeed, in the beginning, he was elevated by preciesely the commitment to integrity, to following the rules (e.g. "I won't lie") that he is criticized for later. He refuses to lie to get Navorski out of the airport, at great inconvenience to himself.

Indeed, why was a villain necessary? Why couldn't it just have been a flaw in the system. Dramatic conflict does not require a personal villain, merely an obstacle. A villain is only necessary in tragedy, where he is also the hero.

(I might add that it is mainly this "compassion" business that separates me from our President; he has a right to be compassionate, but not with my or other taxpayers' money.)

I graduated from Stamford High School on Monday. It felt surprisingly short, I suppose, because I was participating in it.

There were several speeches of variable quality.

Our class president, Nitesh Banta (who will attend Harvard next year), gave a speech about giving a speech. Or, more precisely, he gave a speech about not giving a speech (i.e. "I could have spoken about [X] but you alrleady understand [X] in your doing [A]; I could have spoken about [Y] but you show your understanding of that by [B]; etc.)

A member of the Board of Education gave a speech about the Wizard of Oz, likening it somewhat inaptly to the journey of life. Apparently, I will journey on the yellow brick road toward my goals, meeting friends not entirely like Dorothy's. When it seems I have reached my goals, I will look behind the curtain and find it's not what I expected, and then continue journeying. Fortunately, the speech was stylistically okay, its length was unlengthy, and its insights avoided cliche, which I suppose was the motivation for the extended not-entirely-inapt-but-not-entirely-apt metaphor.
She selected a good poem: "The Guy in the Glass," by Dale Wimbrow. It seemed to me a cross between the styles of Rudyard Kipling and Dr. Seuss in its profound but simple moralisms. And I like, very much, both Dr. Seuss and Rudytard Kipling.
When you get what you want in your struggle for pelf,
And the world makes you King for a day,
Then go to the mirror and look at yourself,
And see what that guy has to say.

For it isn't your Father, or Mother, or Wife,
Who judgement upon you must pass.
The feller whose verdict counts most in your life
Is the guy staring back from the glass.

He's the feller to please, never mind all the rest,
For he's with you clear up to the end,
And you've passed your most dangerous, difficult test
If the guy in the glass is your friend.

You may be like Jack Horner and "chisel" a plum,
And think you're a wonderful guy,
But the man in the glass says you're only a bum
If you can't look him straight in the eye.

You can fool the whole world down the pathway of years,
And get pats on the back as you pass,
But your final reward will be heartaches and tears
If you've cheated the guy in the glass.

The sentiment is very much like Kipling, as is the very unremarkable meter and rhyme structure. The informalisms tilted my poemeter a bit towards Seuss.

Principal Suzanne Brown Koroshetz gave a brief speech which I don't remember much of. I remember that it wasn't bad.

Mayor Malloy gave a very politically safe speech, as if he were some sort of politician.

The commencement speaker, Jack Cavanaugh, was quite good. He spoke about doing what one loves (though, as he said, money doesn't hurt). He spoke about not feeling guilty about success, about giving back to the community, and about not winding up like the guy he knew who worked for 40 years at a job he hated because the money was good. He told us not to fix the world, but to enjoy ourselves, which I appreciated a lot. It's good to be reminded that life is about enjoying life.

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