A Man for All Seasons

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:17 am

Plot: The Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) is a man of great principle and a devout Catholic in the time of King Henry VIII. The King wants to dissolve his marriage to the queen (a Spanish princess and the widow of his late brother) so that he can marry Anne Boleyn. All around him, courtiers and politicians plot to use this development to their advantage, or at least to hold on to their positions, given the conflict between the Church’s position that marriage is indissoluble and the King’s that it must be dissolved. For More, the choice is clear, and God comes before the King. But because of More’s incorruptible reputation, his support is crucial. Every possible form of persuasion and coercion is attempted, but More will not make any affirmative statement on behalf of the divorce (though he refrains from opposing it explicitly). And More will not lend his allegiance to the new church headed by the King.

Finally, having lost his position, his fortune, his reputation (on false charges) and his liberty, More is sentenced to death. He accepts it with grace and faith, forgiving the executioner.

Discussion: This is an outstanding (and brilliantly filmed) study of a man who is faced with a harrowingly difficult moral choice. The choice remains clear to him, even at great cost not just to himself but to his family. Yet within his clear moral imperative, he does calibrate. His conscience does not require him to work against or even speak out against the divorce; he need only keep silent.

Questions for Kids:

· What does the title mean?

· The same director made “High Noon” — do you see any similarities?

· What would you consider in deciding what to do, if you were More?

· What other characters in history can you think of who sustained such a commitment to a moral principle?

Connections: Kids and teens should read some of the books about this period, and see if they can find reproductions of the paintings by Hans Holbein of the real-life characters. They may want to watch some of the many movies about it as well. As history shows, the marriage that led to the establishment of the Church of England did not last. “Anne of the Thousand Days” tells the story of the relationship of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, including, from a different perspective, some of the events of “A Man for All Seasons.” A British mini-series, “The Six Wives of Henry VIII” devotes one episode to each wife, and is more historically accurate and very well done. Henry VIII is such a colorful figure that he appeared in several movies, including the classic “Private Life of Henry VIII” with Charles Laughton. His death appears in the (completely fictional) “Prince and the Pauper,” and his daughter with Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I, is featured in several movies, including “The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex” (with Bette Davis and Errol Flynn) and “Mary, Queen of Scots” (with Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth) and “Mary of Scotland” (with Katharine Hepburn as Mary and Florence Eldridge as Elizabeth).

This movie won six Oscars , including Best Picture, Director, and Actor.

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Based on a true story Biography Drama Epic/Historical Tragedy

Life is Beautiful

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

This Oscar-winner for Best Actor and Best Foreign Film is a “fable” is about a father’s love for his wife and son in the midst of the Holocaust. Writer/director Roberto Begnini stars as a Chaplinesque character who charms a beautiful teacher by creating a world of gentle magic around them. The first half of the movie is their sweet love story, with only faint foreshadowing of the tragedies that lie ahead.

But then Begnini and his wife and child are sent to a concentration camp. To protect his son’s life, he teaches him to hide from the guards during the day. To protect his son’s heart, he constructs an elaborate fantasy that they are participating in a very difficult contest to win the ultimate prize, a real tank. And his son finds that this make sense, and he goes along with it.

This movie inspired a lot of controversy from people who said that it was an inaccurate portrayal of the Holocaust, and that it was wrong to set a comedy, even a gentle bittersweet one, in a concentration camp. But the movie is never less than respectful of the suffering during the Holocaust, and of the impossibility of any kind of real portrayal of that experience. Even “Schindler’s List” is not a portrayal of the Holocaust. That experience is fundamentally incomprehensible. The best we can hope for from art is that it gives us glimpses. This movie gives us such a glimpse, but it is really about love, and the indominability of humanity even in the midst of inhumanity.

We often see in life and in movies that people react to extreme adversity by magnifying whatever sense of control they have left — think of Mrs. Van Dam’s focus on her coat in “The Diary of Anne Frank,” absurd in light of the fact that they never go outside, so she has no real need for a coat, but important because somehow she has chosen the coat as a place to locate her sense of herself as not having lost everything. In “Life is Beautiful,” the father focuses on his special talent for creating a feeling of magic to protect his son from the worst reality of the Holocaust, the sense of utter betrayal. Very importantly, he gives his son a sense of control, by letting him think that he has made the choice to participate in the contest. And knowing that he has kept his child’s faith intact gives him a sense of control, and purpose, that keeps him going.

This is an excellent movie for families to watch together, to discuss not just the historical framework but challenges that parents face when they see their children learn about tragedy and unfairness.

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Classic Comedy Drama Family Issues Romance Tragedy

Titanic

Posted on December 13, 2002 at 5:16 am

Classic Greek tragedies explored the theme of hubris as human characters dared to take on the attributes of the gods only to find their hopes crushed. This is a real-life story of hubris, as the ship declared to be “unsinkable” (and therefore not equipped with lifeboats for the majority of the passengers) sank on its maiden voyage from England to the United States.

In this blockbuster movie, winner of ten Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director and on its way to becoming the highest-grossing movie of all time, the disaster serves as the backdrop to a tragic love story between Rose (Kate Winslet), an upper class (though impoverished) girl and Jack (Leonardo DiCaprio), a lower class (though artistic) boy who won the ticket in a poker game. Parents should know that the movie features brief nudity (as Rose poses for Jack) and suggested sex (in a steamy car). A much more serious concern is the tragedy itself, with hundreds of frozen dead bodies floating in the water, which may be upsetting or even terrifying for some kids.

The movie raises important questions about choices faced by the characters, as we see a wide range of behavior from the most honorable to the most despicable. The captain (whose decision to try to break a speed record contributed to the disaster) and the ship’s designer (whose plan for additional lifeboats was abandoned because it made the decks look too cluttered) go down with the ship, but the owner and Rose’s greedy and snobbish fiance survive. Molly Brown (dubbed “Unsinkable” for her bravery that night) tries to persuade the other passengers in the lifeboats to go back for the rest. But they refuse, knowing that there is no way to rescue them without losing their own lives. They wait to be picked up by another ship, listening to the shrieks of the others until they all gone.

Many parents have asked me about the appeal of this movie to young teens, especially teen-age girls. The answer is that in addition to the appeal of its young stars, director James Cameron has written an almost perfect adolescent fantasy for girls. Rose is an ideal heroine, rebelling against her mother’s snobbishness and insistence that she marry for money. And Jack is an ideal romantic hero — sensitive, brave, honorable, completely devoted, and (very important for young girls) not aggressive (she makes the decision to pursue the relationship, and he is struck all but dumb when she insists on posing nude). If he is not quite androgynous, he is not exactly bursting with testosterone either, and, ultimately, he is not around. As with so many other fantasies of the perfect romance, from Heathcliff and Cathy in “Wuthering Heights” to Rick and Ilse in “Casablanca” the characters have all the pleasures of the romantic dream with no risk of having to actually build a life with anyone. It is interesting that the glimpses we get of Rose’s life after the Titanic show her alone, though we meet her granddaughter and hear her refer to her husband. Parents can have some very good discussions with teens about this movie by listening carefully and respectfully when they explain why it is important to them, as this is a crucial stage in their development.

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Based on a true story Classic Romance Tragedy
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