Friday, July 24, 2009
Its my fifth day in Phuentsholing and i must admit i'm beginning to adapt to the heat, the dust and the early shutdown. You see, everything here pretty much closes shop after nine in the evening. Round about ten, the only thing you can do is go for a quiet stroll in the empty streets and enjoy the night time breeze. The other option is to go back to your hotel room and watch some TV.
For me the highlights are the showers. I've never showered so much! Get up in the morning and get a shower. Come back in the afternoons for a little siesta and get a shower. Be done for the day and come back to the room and hit the shower.
The showers are divine! I've never felt this clean! You see, Thimphu is up in the mountains. Though the sun's strokes are strong and summers can be scorching the water's chill is unexpected. Get a cold shower in Thimphu and you're likely to go all goose!
But i didn't wanna talk about refreshing showers and cold-goose-chills. I wanted to talk about the unknown quantity of things and their mystique. This comes to my mind from a book i read...or was it a movie? I'm not certain whence it came but the notion was this: Why do we need to know everything? Why can't we just appreciate phenomena as they are and as they appear rather than cutting them up in neat little slices and portions?
My son used to ask me a lot of questions as kids do: What happens when you die? Why does the sun shine? What are those sparkling stars? What is the sky? What are animals? How does a plane fly? Why is the earth round and why don't we fall off the face of the earth if indeed it is round!
That's just a sampling. There are other questions of a more emotional nature: Why do people get sad? Why are they lonely? Where did we come from? Why do we get angry? And the lot!
You try and answer as much of the queries as you possibly can. But it can be exasperating! Yet there's this social-feeling that your child's queries should all be answered; in the best scientific way possible. We grow up and find out we still have that many more questions left unanswered! Why are we here? What's our purpose? What's the meaning of life? The list is listless!
I saw this movie called "Masked & Anonymous." Its got Bob Dylan playing a fictional character called Jack Fate. He's a has-been rock and roller who gets called for this one big gig the new government's P.R people are planning to usher in- a new dawn of governance (Done rather satirically by a stylish Mickey Rourke).
Jack's bailed out of jail for the gig. He sets on his journey. Its a public bus and the country is a fictional third-world nation that could be anywhere in Africa, Asia or Latin America but is a disguised portrayal of the USA. But here its distinctively somewhere in Latin America. Jack rides the bus and through his music, his eyes, ears and his voice-overs; we see and hear Bob Dylan. Bob talking politics. Bob talking socialism. Bob talking revolution. Bob talking life and the mystery of things that are mysterious.
Yet Bob does all of that quietly behind the scenes. You hardly see him mutter dialogues. He just gives one-liners that cut through the polite bullshit and gets straight to the point.
Against this bleak backdrop are a lot of characters: The Radio Preacher (a well-disguised Ed Harris?)reminds his audience that "The earth was here long before these gods were." When there's pressure from the gig's organizers, Bobby Cupid (a nice turn by Luke Wilson), a Jack Fate roadie says, "Screw this so-called concert, Jack. These cats are just addicted to lights and sound. Let's go someplace where we can see the earth and sky."
Then there's the Animal Wrangler (Done with casual perfection by a gruff Val Kilmer).Speaking about animals, he tells Jack that "They have no time to bother with success or getting rich. They have no fantasies of glory. They don't borrow money to buy things that decrease in value while they own it. See, they're beautiful 'cause they just are. They do what they do. A lion don't try to be a tiger. A rabbit don't do an impression of a monkey. They don't try to be what they're not. Unlike us. Us human beings....These animals, they were here first. They roamed freely, each one with its own identity and place. Animals should be cherished. They bring joy to the world."
He sermonizes, "You know who's destroying the earth? Not the animals. The tiger, the lion, the cheetah, the snake, the monkey, the baboon, the giraffe, the bear, the panther, the dog, fish, the birds, all perfect in their original forms. Then man came in. Who created him and for what purpose? Still a mystery. Why is he here? A mystery. He's a trespasser. Doesn't know his place...A spoiler, an agitator, stirs up trouble wherever he goes. The zoo, the aquarium, prisons for animals...I avoid looking at human beings. They disgust me so much with their atom bombs and blow dryers and automobiles. They build hospitals as shrines to the diseases they create. Human beings are alone with their secrets. Masked and Anonymous. No one truly knows them...The only righteous human beings in my book are the children and the elderly."
Late on in the film, you hear Jack give his take on the human being; that wholeness and meaning are within each person's reach: "If I know nothing else, I know at least one thing is true: that the sacred is in the ordinary, the common things in life. They tell you that everything is nonsense, that the laws of nature are nonsense, gravity is nonsense, relationships don't exist, jobs don't exist. Everything is up for grabs and there's no cause of anything. That's what they'd like you to believe."
No one is inherently evil is the other theme; rather, each individual struggles with circumstances somewhat beyond their personal control.Even the henchmen and armed guards of the military state have taken those roles because they need the job!
As a result, nearly every character, at one point or another, has something profound and true to say about life. Here's another typical exchange:
Tom Friend (a journo done with aplomb by Jeff Bridges): "What's bugging me? The absurdity of a lifetime of futile labor. That's what's bugging me. Condemned to some pointless task. I'm trying to track down some guy and ask him the meaning of life...Life itself is the meaning of life."
Pagan Lace (a surprise appearance by Penelope Cruz): "Your problem is you're looking at the bug on your windshield, Tom. If you keep looking at it you're going to miss the scenery and have an accident. You gotta look through the windshield, not at it."
Instead of seeing people as "good guys" and "bad guys", the movie suggests that we are all fallible beings trying to cope with things unknown and unknown...from hostile environments to tragic circumstances. Uncle Sweetheart, played by a larger- than-life whiskey swigging John Goodman tells Jack:
"Look Jack, I'm doing my best. Gimme a break. I'm only human."
Jack goes, "I know. It ain't easy being human."
Awakening compassion, too, is the acknowledgment that suffering (or at least pain or loss) is in some sense an existential condition and that we don't "deserve" it- it just is. In another exchange, the newly-freed Jack Fate muses with a straight face, on the nature of loss:
Prospero (?): "Two eagles just killed a pregnant rabbit."
Jack Fate: "Rabbit must have done something."
Both Uncle Sweetheart and Bobby Cupid warn that "The more you know, the more you'll suffer," and yet the movie does say be ignorant for that is bliss but rather that one must be conscious of reality- that no matter how painful it might get, it is all around us. Happiness too is not a guarantee and it definitely cannot be bought or grasped. As Jack reflects in a voice-over, "Some of us pursue perfection and virtue, and if we're lucky we catch up to it but happiness can't be pursued. It either comes to you or it don't. You can always say, if only this, or if only that, but 'if only' is a state of mind we get into when we feel deprived."
The movie ends in violence, mayhem and chaotic order. The rich soundtrack of Bob's many songs come to life in various guises. A rendition of "Blowin' in the Wind" by a six-year old leaves us breathless. The beauty just is.
And in a final flourish, Bob as Jack intones, "Things fall apart, especially the neat order of rules and laws. The way we look at the world is the way we rally are. Seen from a fair garden everything looks cheerful, climb to a higher plateau and you'll see plunder and murder. Truth and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. I stopped trying to figure everything out a long time ago."