Sunday, October 22, 2006

All the Little Animals

Hi all:

Last night --yesterday afternoon, really...I saw a small indie film called "All the little animals." What a lovely story! Christian Bale, when he was younger. It revitalized me in a way art can revitalize a person and set you on a straight path, reminding you of what is important for you in your own life.

I don't know if it's a YA story or not because the protag is 24 but it's about a man-boy named Bobby who was hit by a car when he was about ten so he's not quite right in the head. Nothing super odd, mind you...but a kind of youthfulness. His mother owns a family department store, PLATTS, that's been in her family for generations and then his mom marries a man whom Bobby calls The Fat. A really evil character who is scheming, malicious, and dangerous, and who wants Bobby's inheritance.

When the story starts it starts with a great hook. I love stories that just take the ball and run. Bobby's narrating and it goes something like: "I suppose I should tell you that my mother died and The Fat murdered her. She started getting thinner and thinner and then she died. To understand me better you must know that I had an accident when I was a boyr and I haven't been right in the head since."

And then of course we're off and running. The plot is off and running.. a straight line. We go to the funeral of his mom and we see Bobby, the skeevy nurse, and The FAT arrive back at the mansion that Fat has taken over and the Fat tells Bobby that if Bobby doesn't want to be sent to an institution, Bobby has to turn the family department store over to him. Bobby refuses because his mother told him to and The Fat -- who has taken away the good therapist doctor Bobby had and given him a doc who keeps him on drugs all day-- tells him he has until 4:00 the next day. Then Bobby goes upstairs to get away and is looking for his pet mouse. The Fat arrives in his room and throws the dead mouse at him and tells him to sign the paper.

So we know who the baddy is. But the passion, the anger, the terror, the stake is all present within the first ten minutes of the story and there's no rambling around. The story follows a straight line and never veers. And it races to its theme with absolutely no shame. Bobby escapes the house and keeps walking and although he doesn't know much about traveling he tells them he's determined to go to Cornwall to his grandfather. We don't know if he even has a grandfather but he just walks and walks. He meets a flaky family of travellers (UK version of gypsies) and they take him along and are very kind to him. Then they have to part and they drop him off at a truck stop. He meets a truck driver who is going to cornwall. The guy's nice enough but tries to kill a fox on the road and accidentally kills himself when he and his truck tumble down hill.

Down the hill is a Mr of the looniest, most wounded, thematic characters I've seen in a while. Played by the actor John Hurt. He's a hermit and travels up and down the Cornwall roads burying little animals. He doesn't want to take Bobby in but he does. Anyway, long story short...the story just became an instant favorite with me. The theme is about all the little animals and creatures who are destroyed by more powerful people, people with power. And I totally understood it. I wanted to write a story that gripped me with as much hurt and fear for the wounded as this story did. But I'd have to live through it...and I'm not sure I can deal with it. YA can be so heart-wrenching and American stories are often so good at soft-pedalling that I was literally surprised at the visceral cruelty and righteous anger in the story. If I write a story, though, I think I'd write a story about a little autistic kid who is treated majorly cruelly. And I'd have to have as sharp and as piercing a plot. It really was a good movie, and yet so gently rambling. No super guns or chases. Just evil at a human level. And yet there was something so mythic about it. I just fell in love with justice...and Christian Bale. And when you're watching a movie waiting for the good guy to murder the bad guy, well, you know you're caught up.

I've always liked stories about people who don't fit in, people who are different and who have no shame about it, people in short who don't think much about the systems in this world. I mean one of my favorite films is the Danish film FESTEN (Celebration) And when I saw this film I was so reminded again of who I was. Of what I consider important, of my discomfort with normal people and normal life. I had forgotten that. And I had forgotten how peaceful I felt when I was surrounded by people -- even if they are only literary characters-- who truly did not value the norms of the world.

At the same time, it made me really see into the virtues of creating novels populated by people I truly like and love and respect, and my characters with terrible needs. It kinda reminded me of Glendon Swarthout's BLESS THE BEASTS AND CHILDREN, but worked better I think because the main character wasn't out to save animals from an evil government. (The American fixation with thinking that one is well and one must help others from the evil powers-that-be.) But the main character was in need and needed saving from the cruel world. It just was lovely.

The film really blessed my heart and I'd recommend it to anyone who can get ahold of it. Even if you don't like stories about wounded people, as writers, you will love the way the story is told.

Incidentally, I saw clearly that in my novel Wind Follower is the life I would've wanted to live. The society I would have liked, and I saw that in many ways my husband Luke is like the main character Loic. It is absolutely wonderful to be a writer, and to be able to create worlds that heal the heart of others, and even our own hearts.


Saturday, October 14, 2006


You might not have heard this but another religious movie has made it into theaters. This one is being made by a Christian production company and is called "One night with the king" and it’s based on the story of Esther. Already I dislike the title. I shouldn’t, of course, but the title is so dang romantic. And Esther, which is a great story of God’s protection and timing, is not romantic. Therefore, this is a movie I have determined not to see.
Somewhere along the way, though, we Christians have begun thinking of it as a great love story, and of Esther herself as the perfect symbol of submissive wifeliness. Perhaps the story has been in the hands of too many male ministers. We need to hear a woman minister tackle the story.

Let’s start with the king: Xerxes or (as the name is transliterated into Hebrew/English) Ahauserus. Xerxes was a braggart. Sure he had conquered more than his fair share of kingdoms and certainly had a right to brag. We Christians accept this because arrogance is perfectly normal for a king and certainly an arrogant male needing to be enlightened is considered a fairly popular romantic theme. After all, the woman who tames such a guy...well, it’s the old good girl/bad guy thing. This kind of pairing happens so often in Christian romances that one wonders why Christian women would want to read stories about women taming workaholic braggarts. We should be a bit more enlightened than to be attracted to guys like that, I think.

As the story goes, Xerxes gives a great dinner party, lasting 180 days, in order to show off. And in the middle of all his showing off, he suddenly gets the very drunken idea that he wants to show off his wife. Basically, he wants a veiled Arabian woman from whatever century that was to put herself on display for all his drunk friends. Vashti, his wife, (rightly, I think) refuses, giving him a snide answer. The men in the palace become quite upset about this and convince the king that if the women in the kingdom hear about how uppity Vashti has been to the king, the women will all start back-talking their husbands. And in that neck of the world (then as now) women’s equality with men is the offense par excellence! We don’t seem to realize that this is one of the reasons why the Christian-influenced West is so feared (in addition to other historical factors): the men in power fear the western world will upset the sexual status quo. Kid you not.

Christians have written tomes about how horribly unsubmissive Vashti was to do this. I think they’re wrong. I understand that when Esther enters the story we all want to be on her side, but does this mean we have to demonize Vashti. After all, maybe Vashti wasn’t so proud as all that. Maybe God used her integrity to get her to lose her place as queen. Yes, let’s think about that one for a moment. And for another moment.
Enter Esther. Raised by her uncle Mordechai, she is already shown to be a wounded soul who owes a male authority figure very much. Raise the stakes: she is beautiful. Is this not the perfect trophy wife for a king such as Xerxes? She will never question him, and she is perfect for a king who regards the external. So, she is perfect for him...but is this the perfect guy for her?

Of course not! Esther probably wanted a husband and a house in her neighborhood. instead of all that palace intrigue. Who wants to live among foreigners and away from one’s people? Who wants a husband who has five hundred concubines and secondary wives? Who wants a husband whom one can only see when it please him...or else? And remember, Vashti, the former queen is still in the harem. She’s demoted, mind you. She’s not out of the picture. What gets me is that many Christians seem to think that this story is a love story and that Esther actually falls in love with the king. Where does it say this in the Bible? Alas, nowhere. But films are replete with it. We really must try to see the Bible as it is...and not put cultural romantic ideas into a story. When we add our cultural dime-store romantic notions to a Bible story we miss the point entirely. Needless to say, I’m not going to waste my time seeing the film...should it arrive at a theater near me.

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