Of all my favorite lines in The Princess Bride, perhaps my favorite movie of all time, this might be favorite. A lot of it is Wallace Shawn’s delivery. Yet I love Vizzini’s ability to dismiss what he sees before him not as his fault or error, but as beyond the realm of possibility.
Ultimately, one of his comrades, Inigo Montoya, turns to him and says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Excuses come easily. We blame others. We blame God. We blame our upbringing. We blame the cosmic forces of existence. We even blame ourselves, but usually in bitter, unhelpful ways.
We also make excuses for others. We justify their behaviors, no matter how heinous or ridiculous, out of misplaced love and support. Take this film full of excuses…
Can you be someone different? The answer is no. You can’t. But you sure can try.
College Freshman talk about creating a new persona as they head off to school. I moved to the other end of the country with a chance to be a different sort of rabbi and individual. For most people, it doesn’t quite happen. We are who we are and we can’t simply shut that off and be someone else. But we also live in the real world. If one only lives in the movies, there’s a chance to become someone wholly new.
Our image is what we try to project to the world to define ourselves. In one of my favorite recent movies (thanks to you Ben Walnick), Crazy, Stupid, Love., we run into a host of wonderful characters (and actors playing them) who battle with the image they present to the world. The movie deals with the rich personages in surprising and interesting ways. Go see it.
But as Elul marches on, consider your image. You can’t wholly find a new one by plopping on a leather jacket or changing your name to Princess Consuela Banana Hammock. But you can make steps forward. Don’t try to become someone new this year; try to adjust some aspect of who you are. Cut yourself some slack. It isn’t easy. But don’t be satisfied with where you are now. All of our images need some sparkle and some updating.
Take Moneyball. Billy Beane tries to remake how a Major League Baseball team goes about evaluating players. He is openly thwarted at every turn. According to the movie, if you are ridiculously good-looking (Brad Pitt) and hire a plucky, stat geek (Jonah Hill), it’ll all come out okay.
By the way, the Oakland Athletics never did win the World Series under his regime. They did go to the playoffs a few times, but haven’t since 2006 or even finished above .500. But they are doing well this year, and Beane did change how all clubs evaluate talent so he has a true legacy even if it isn’t actually winning.
Change is a common element of the movies and can inspire us. But there are some things you seem to need.
Memory is a gift. Through memory we bring people back into our lives. We relive the wonderful and tragic giving us strength and teaching us lessons. Memory lets us cherish nostalgia and enables us to remember what happened on last week’s Breaking Bad since the recap at the beginning barely hits the highlights.
That’s why it is such a shame that Hollywood has no memory. If they did, there wouldn’t be so many remakes.
This will be a brief review. I figure I shouldn’t spend more time writing about the film than they did writing the actual screenplay. But that’s not a knock on Premium Rush. Granted the trailer looked awful. The name is forgettable (and thankfully only mentioned once). But after seeing many positive reviews from diverse sources, I took a dive in. My belief that Joseph Gordon-Levitt is the most talented diverse young actor today (having taken the mantle, I believe, from a now older Edward Norton) only helped.
This fun summer ride is what summer action movies should be about…at least the ones without explosions, superheroes, robots, dinosaurs, aliens, or CGI.
Jews love blessings. It is part of our core. Many of our blessings are done with special objects such as candles or bread in front of us, but we don’t actually bless the object. We thank God for the opportunity, for the sacred moment or opportunity. Jewish blessings typically begin with Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam – Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe. But they don’t have to. For example, The Priestly Benediction or Yivarech’cha from Numbers 6: 24-26 is a quintessential Jewish blessing. Jacob shares blessings with his sons before he dies and Moses with the Jewish people as a farewell.
Blessings are usually short. A classic blessing is “Ad Meah v’Esreim Shanah” – May you live until 120 years. 120 years is how is Moses lived. When I shared that recently with an advanced senior, she wasn’t interested, so I offered her the alternative version that differs by one letter in the Hebrew: “Ad Meah c’Esreim Shanah May you live until 100 and may it be like you were 20 years old. She liked that more.
In our daily lives, we fill our conversation many short and simple blessings without even thinking about it. Here are a few…
Prayer is the focus of much of the High Holy Days. Our communal, organized prayers are supplemented by private, personal prayers we offer spontaneously throughout out lives. Movies are filled with such moments of “prayers of desperation.” Most famously, there is George Bailey’s prayer in It’s a Wonderful Life.
George’s life has always been deeply troubled. His brother nearly drowned and George lost his hearing in his left ear in saving him. Family illness, his brother’s goals, the evil Henry F. Potter, and his foolish foolish Uncle Billy are some of the woes he faces. In a moment of hopelessness, George offers off a short prayer…
Today’s theme is the Shofar. It’s too obvious to just use a film with a shofar such as The Ten Commendments. So let’s take a moment to talk about the shofar. Rambam (Moses Maimonides) explains its meaning best: “Awaken, you sleepers! Arise, you slumberers! Examine your deeds, do teshuvah and remember your Creator! …Improve their ways and rectify their deeds!” The shofar is an alarm clock to action. It is a signal to change our ways.
There is a genre of movie that fits this perfectly. A human alarm that warns the rest of us – sometimes in vain – to a fraud, deception, corruption and evil-doing. This person challenges us to make a change despite incredible odds. And though they sometimes fail, the movies celebrate their courage to speak out. This is the whistleblower.
If you want to just explore faith, there is no shortage of amazing films. Check out the incredible Arts & Faith Top 100 list. A film like 1928’s silent La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc (#1) or the very underrated animated film The Iron Giant (#99) powerfully speak to all kinds of faith.
When I think of films about faith, I think of Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory, a documentary about the West Memphis Three and their 18 year journey towards freedom from their false incarceration (according to the film). While I never saw the earlier two films, this one stands on its own and is a fascinating watch of how to stay strong over decades of injustice.
But when you think movies and faith over the decades, you can’t leave out Rocky Balboa.
(Note: The movie quotes below use words that you probably wouldn’t use in front of your grandmother, but can be said on Prime Time TV today without bleeping. Just so you know they are coming…)
“Trust me,” Katniss Everdeen says in the recent big-screen adaptation of the best-selling The Hunger Games. Trust is a basic necessity of everyday living even for teenagers forced into a public game to kill each other. We trust the other drivers on the road to obey certain rules. We trust the restaurant to give us clean, healthy foods. We trust our politicians to make laws and policies in society’s best interests. Frankly, we do a lot of trusting of complete strangers all day long.
In one of my all-time favorite comedies, A Fish Called Wanda, a gang of jewel thieves is also stabbing each other in the back. But to achieve their goal of gaining sole possession of the stolen diamonds, they must continually reassess their trust of one another. For example, when Kevin Kline (in a wonderful Oscar winning role) as Otto and Jamie Lee Curtis as Wanda go to steal the diamonds from the secret hiding place, Wanda is planning on bashing Otto over the head the moment they pull them from the safe. When the jewels aren’t there, she quickly has to alter her plans. Otto’s response to the diamonds having been moved is amusing considering he was in the process of stealing them.
Otto: “Ok… Ok… DISAPPOINTED. Son of a bitch. What do you have to do in this world to make people trust you?”