Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Day After ParaNorman

I saw two movies recently that, while not similar in their plots, did have a linked thought that inspired me.

The first movie was The Day After Tomorrow.  This movie depicts a sudden climate shift which begins a new ice age.  The one scene which particularly interested me occurred just as the deadly winter storm begins to descend on New York City.  At this point in the movie, transportation via airplane and train has ceased, and most people are trying to move via car or foot although if you have ever been on Manhattan Island in rush hour, car traffic does not move very quickly.  Anyway, the scene in question involves what appears to be a Wall Street type who decides that perhaps a bus might get him to where he needs to go; unfortunately, the bus is out of service.  He bangs on the door and offers the driver $200 to put the bus into service.  The driver relents, and so the Wall Street guy has bought his way to safety.  Or so he thinks.  In the next scene a  huge tidal wave engulfs everything in its path, including the bus.

The second movie was ParaNorman.  It is a kid's movie, about a young boy who is different from his peers.  He can see and speak with dead people.  Or, more precisely, the dead people who are still on earth due to some unresolved issues or their own violent death.  At school, he is treated as a leper, getting daily messages on his locker about how he is different.  At home, since he has had an ongoing conversation with his dead grandmother, he is treated as a liability by his father.  After his dad says something particularly nasty to him, his mother tries to defend her husband's words by telling Norman that sometime people say and do things when they are afraid.  Normans responds with the obvious, "a father shouldn't be afraid of his son". 

But the more interesting scene occurs towards the end of the movie when Norman confronts the witch who has been loosed upon the town.  The witch, in this case, is a little girl who had been killed by the town elders 300 years ago for being different and who has cursed the town, and those that killed her.  Norman has decided that the only way to lift the curse is to talk to the girl.  He tells her that she cursed the town and those that killed her to get back at them, to cause them pain because they caused her pain.  The obviousness of this fact, that we often cause pain to those who hurt us, leads the little girl to ask Norman if he ever wanted to hurt all those bullies in his life.   Here is the cool part.  Norman, 9 year old Norman, says sure, he thought of getting back at them.  But what would that matter?  It wouldn't erase the memories of their cruelty, nor would it prevent them from being mean in the future.  Continuing the circle of meanness, or any cruel act, is never the answer to ending that behavior.  And, of course, since this is a movie for kids which requires a happy ending, Norman reminds her about the good people in her life, her mother in particular, and the happy times she shared with her.  The transformation from witch to little girl is complete, and she falls asleep, never to awaken, curse or torment, again.

How are these movies similar you ask?

Perhaps they are not, other than that both teach us a lesson about life.  In fact, there are hundreds of movies like these two, seasonal movies like It's a Wonderful Life and Scrooge.  Movies that we all cry over, nod our heads in understanding, perhaps even try to emulate, at least for a day or two.  Over and over again, we are exposed to the lessons which teach us that accumulating large sums of money cannot prevent bad things from happening, or delay our inevitable death.  Will not eliminate the fear we feel about unfortunate events or death.  Or the lesson that violence begets violence.  That killing to avenge killing leads to continued killing, not peace.  That hurting another who has hurt you belies the teachings of our moral and spiritual guidebooks.

We are all afraid, at times.  Sometimes we deal with our fear by ignoring it.  By immersing ourselves in the pursuit of money or fame rather than facing our fears.  Sometimes we project our fears onto scapegoats, the Jews in 1940 Germany, blacks in the 1960's, gays in the 1980's, muslims in the 2000's.
Sometimes we succumb to our fears by living in fear, questioning the motives of everyone around us, even the motives of our president.  And then we react to these fears by arming ourselves to the teeth, as if violence generated by good guys can eliminate our fears. 

Maybe my idea of happiness is off base.  A world inhabited by people who understand that love is far more important than money.  That peace is the absence of  war and violence.  That our family and friends are our most precious possessions.  Perhaps it is all just one more utopian idea that will never be realized because man is flawed, is afraid.  Perhaps, but should that prevent us from dreaming of and striving for such a world? 


  1. Well said, Joe. The only flaw in your philosophy is that very few of us are brave enough or strong enough to live for it.

  2. Joe, I found this in a post on Front Porch Republic. Seemed appropriate for you.

    "We now need a name for those who value hope above expectations. We need a name for those who love people more than products. . . . We need a name for those who love the earth on which each can meet the other. . . . We need a name for those who collaborate with their Promethean brother in the lighting of the fire and the shaping of iron, but who do so to enhance their ability to tend and care and wait upon the other. . . .I suggest that these hopeful brothers and sisters be called Epimethean men.[2]"