Category Archives: movies

Dark Vader

Photo: Kristina Alexanderson

Photo: Kristina Alexanderson

Note: I originally wrote this post in November but for some reason never published it. (Unpublished posts probably outnumber published ones on this blog!) I just read through it again and decided it needs to see the light of day. Enjoy!

Darth Vader. What a villain. At least that’s how we usually see him. After all he does murder countless innocents and aid a tyrant in his ascent to unchecked galactic power, not to mention killing his former master and friend and guiding the construction and deployment of not one but two planet-annihilating weapons.

On the other hand, you can also see Darth Vader as being quite a bit like the rest of us.

He comes from the middle of nowhere and takes an opportunity to improve his life. He thinks robots are cool and he loves his mom. He learns and grows, marries, has kids, advances in his career, and then goes through a (slightly early) mid-life crisis where the validity of everything he’s ever stood for is challenged. He’s shown a new worldview, one where good is evil and evil is good, and it’s frighteningly persuasive. And at some point, he has to make a choice. And he chooses darkness.

At its heart, Vader’s conflict seems to be a battle of ideologies—those of the Jedi and the Sith, built on opposite poles of the Force’s power. At some point, the dark voice—strengthened by the power of Anakin’s fears—becomes persuasive, and the Jedi wunderkind succumbs, transforming into the thing he swore to fight, something he never thought he could be.

If this fight over our own direction and identity isn’t universally human then I don’t know what is. Darth Vader—everyman.

Photo: Duane Romanell

Photo: Duane Romanell

Of course, (and I’m giving no spoiler alert here since this all came out 32 years ago) Anakin/Vader eventually finds the good in himself, repents, and turns back to the light. But to get there he goes through over three decades of profound darkness. He oppresses an entire galaxy. He’s horrible.

I certainly can’t recommend that approach to anyone. But I think there’s something to be said for the darkness. The forest must burn down in order to be renewed. Mourning precedes healing, winter comes before spring. Maybe it isn’t the only way of resolving our inner turmoil, but sometimes it is a way.

Sometimes, letting the night come is the only way to get to day.

Too Whatever

A beautiful bit of Swedish countryside (Stora Sjöfallet Park). Photo by Nattfodd. CC-BY-SA 3.0.

A beautiful bit of Swedish countryside (Stora Sjöfallet Park). Photo by Nattfodd. CC-BY-SA 3.0.

A few weeks ago with some friends I watched a Finnish movie called “Äideistä parhain” (Mother of Mine). It tells the story of a young Finnish boy named Eero. Eero has a bit of a rough time through the course of the film. His father is killed in an air raid during fighting between the Soviet Union and Finland during World War II. Eero’s mother sends him away to live with a Swedish family in order to escape the dangers of the war, the mother in his adoptive family—Signe—is prickly and mean, and his own mother runs off with a German man and tells the Swedish family they can keep Eero forever.

Talk about abandonment trauma!

Eventually, Signe sees Eero’s need in his state of extreme vulnerability, sets aside her own pain, and embraces the boy as a member of her family. From the moment she first shows him tenderness and gives him a hug, I started crying and hardly stopped for the rest of the movie. But good crying!

Other tragedies befall the young lad and I won’t spoil how the film resolves things, but I want to say that I loved this movie. And I think there’s a very specific reason why.

Growing up there were many happy times when we were younger, but at some point things began to change. Apparently my mom began to remember abuse she suffered when she was a child, and the knowledge seemed to burden her. Sometimes she seemed to revert partly back to childhood, her ability to play her role as one of the adults in the family becoming seriously impaired. I don’t think she ever really figured out how to heal. And all this trouble arrived in my parents’ already struggling marriage and only complicated things. Mom didn’t trust Dad. Dad didn’t know how to help Mom and would burst out in anger over her incapacity. It was a mess.

Which left me and my siblings in many ways to raise ourselves. Mom and Dad were too distracted with their own problems. They probably figured that we were good kids and would do just fine. They did their best. But in so many ways they simply weren’t there for us. Mom was sick and Dad was angry, and there wasn’t a lot of room for us kids to be kids—dependent, in need of guidance and help, making mistakes, all those things.

That’s why the story of Eero touched me so deeply. It’s about a kid whose parents haven’t been there for him. His father was killed, then his mother sent him a way and ran off with another man, only taking her son back when her lover left her. But when mean and nasty Signe came to love Eero as her own, it seemed to make everything better. For me it was a powerful symbol of the wrong of abandonment being made right by love. How could I not weep?

Having parents who are too busy, too hurt, too distracted, too dysfunctional, too whatever to be there for you, to simply be parents to you, can leave awfully deep wounds. There’s a void within your heart that feels it will never be filled. It’s a terrible thing.

There’s still a part of me that yearns for someone to reach out to me in love to make it right. Like Signe did for Eero. Maybe someday that hole in my heart will be filled, but for now I carry the wounds with me.

Phil’s Lesson

A groundhog doing its thing. Photo by Eiffelle. CC-BY-SA 2.5.

A groundhog doing its thing. Photo by Eiffelle. CC-BY-SA 2.5.

In Groundhog Day, Phil Connors (Bill Murray’s character) lives February 2nd over and over and over again.

Such an experience would be maddening—no relationship you built would persist, no accomplishment would be lasting. Yet it would also be liberating—a chance to live life without permanent consequences aside from the learning you take with you. You could try things you’ve never tried, spend time on things you normally don’t have time for, work at being the kind of person you really want to be.

It’s fun to fantasize a bit about what you would do. If, when I woke up in the morning, it was February 2nd again, what would I do? How would I live that day, over and over? There would be no progress other than the improvement of myself, so how would I improve?

Play the piano like Phil Connors does. That’s the first thing that comes to mind. Finish writing that stinking novel I’ve been working on since November? Nope, because my writing would reset each morning and I couldn’t keep it all in my head. (Or could I?) Become a better cook? Definitely. Overcome my fear of heights through repeated risk-free exposure? Yes, of course.

I’d give up my social inhibitions. I’d one by one spend the day with each of the people in my life that I could, getting to know them, learning from them. I’d have those scary conversations I tend to avoid, knowing if I screw it up I can try it again the next time.

There would be so many other things to do. As much as it would be a curse, being stuck living the same day repeatedly would also be a mighty gift.

It all sounds so different from “real life”. But is it?

Every morning I wake up in the same bed, at the same time, to the same alarm sounds with basically the same amount of light streaming in through the windows. I have essentially the same opportunities as the previous day. I see roughly the same people doing roughly the same things. Most of the risks I take have short-term consequences and don’t cause the world to end. Though much in life is transient, what I learn and become continues with me from day to day.

Really, when you think about it, our lives are much more like Groundhog Day than not. Most things stay the same most of the time. The most important thing that can change in our own lives is usually ourselves.

Remember all those things you’d do differently if you were caught in a Phil Connors-style time loop? Don’t most of them apply to regular, linear life, too?

I’d say they do. I’d say that’s Phil’s lesson.