Fathers and Sons

TJ photo + title card

I went to see two films on the weekend. On Sunday, I saw an advanced screening of the much heralded: The Place Beyond the Pines starring Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper. On Saturday, I saw the much less heralded French film, set in Israel: The Other Son (“Le fils de l’autre”). Both films are broadly about fathers and sons; but that’s about where the similarity ends.

Frankly, I went to see The Other Son only because it was a slow week in Sydney for new movies and I’d already seen everything else on my list of films to watch. I expected to see yet another lament on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – a subject not exactly new to the screen – but as it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised.

The Other Son is about two boys, one born to a Jewish family, the other to a Palestinian family, who are inadvertently switched at birth. It begins when the Jewish-raised boy is taking his medical exam prior to serving in the military where it is discovered that he is not, in fact, his parents’ natural-born son. The mystery is investigated, the truth discovered and the remainder of the film deals with how the two boys, and all the other members of their respective families, come to terms with this revelation.

The film is a vehicle for the director, Lorraine Levy, to distil this complex and enduring problem down to a human level; and she does it, in my opinion, with great humanity, some humour and consummate skill. I was engaged with the story and its characters. I felt myself reacting to the situations in which they found themselves as if I were in the situations, myself. I wanted them to resolve their differences, to understand each other and care for each other. Yes, there was hatred in the film; but the overwhelming emotion throughout was love.

As I understood the film, and I am a film goer rather than expert, I believe that the writer and director were making two key points; points they made clearly and distinctly, and all the more powerfully because of the context leading up to them. First of all, this is a problem whose origins date back not decades (to 1948) or centuries (to the Crusades) but millennia: to two brothers, Isaac and Ishmael, who also had different mothers. Secondly, through the complexity of the relationships in which the characters suddenly find themselves, I believe she tried to demonstrate that their initial prejudice is based on the labels that are placed on individuals; and when those labels are removed, and people behind them are seen as real people, of flesh and blood and in this case kin, then the similarities and commonalities appear far more puissant than the superficial differences that were proclaimed by the labels. There is a wonderful scene, right before the end, which I feel conveys this idea perfectly.

If The Other Son focussed on the sons, The Place Beyond the Pines, focusses on the fathers and their relationship with their sons. I don’t want to say too much about the plot because one of the strengths of the film, in my opinion, is the way in which the plot is revealed; but in general terms, I interpreted the film as demonstrating how the quality of a father’s relationship with his son can have a powerful influence on how the son develops into an adult. The film explores this idea from various angles because, in fact, there are three fathers and two sons in the story. If you see the film, you’ll understand this apparent anomaly.

In The Other Son, the two boys are born into an almost farcical situation which enables them, in their own microcosm, to solve the problem that has dogged the people of their region for millennia. The Place Beyond the Pines, on the other hand, suggests that we have far less freewill; that conditions under which we are formed, in our childhood and adolescent years, may define us for the rest of our lives; and that both indifference and even love, when misdirected, can have a negative and sometimes calamitous effect.

In both films, the relationships explored are complex. Those in The Other Son are probably somewhat idealised but this is a movie, not real life, and it is attempting to convey an idea that would almost certainly be diluted by a rigid adherence to realism. Those in the Place Beyond the Pines, however, seem more true-to-life because the message of this film is that these things really do happen in life, all around us.

Seeing both films on the same weekend was fortuitous, for me. Both made me think. But whereas I came out of the cinema showing The Other Son with a feeling of optimism – that we can all learn to look beyond the labels and see people as they really are, and learn to treat each other with kindness and acceptance; I came out of the cinema showing The Place Beyond the Pines feeling much more pessimistic; and wondering what kind of father I have been. Have I condemned my son to a particular life that could have been better if I had been a better father?

Before I retired from work, I held a position in which I managed a group of people; and as a manager, I understood that it was my responsibility to guide, to educate, to encourage and protect my staff where necessary. But I learned, from someone older and wiser, that the ultimate objective of any manager should be to make him or herself redundant. It sounded odd at first but when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. If your staff can operate efficiently and effectively without your help, you free up your time to devote to those non-operational responsibilities that a manager has, like planning and analysis and so on. And it struck me eventually that being a parent (in my case, a father) was similar to being a manager because the ultimate goal there too was to prepare my son to face the world on his own, without me.

Out of the blue, in the early part of 2010, my son decided that he wanted to become a screenwriter. We’ve all had our dreams. At various points on my fledgling timeline, I wanted to be a writer, a musician, a photographer, even a painter. None of that worked out for me. But what has impressed me about my son is the drive and determination he has shown in pursuing this ambition. Right now, he is trying to raise money to fund a film called Carpe Diem (Seize the Day) he is making with some of his friends. When he wrote to me about this, some time ago, I confess that I had my doubts about whether he could pull off such project; and even if he did, what sort of film he would be able to make. Then, recently, I saw a piece of footage they’d shot  and I felt an infusion of pride that overwhelmed me.

Art, no matter what form it takes, is important for any society. It enables us to have experiences and obtain perspectives that we might not otherwise have in our actual lives. It shows us both sides of arguments. It enables us to enter worlds that we could never otherwise enter. It makes us think and feel and use those thoughts and feelings to communicate with one another; for it is through communication that we can understand each other and our problems can be resolved. And I will argue that movies are the most important art form in our world, today. I believe that because they incorporate the essential attributes of the three most important traditional art forms: image, music and story; but above all, movies have the capacity to reach a mass audience, through cinema distribution, television, and in recent times through emerging technologies. And my son has decided that this is where his future lies.

If I consider the message of The Other Son, my own son has arrived at this decision through the application of his own freewill; but if I consider The Place Beyond the Pines as a behavioural model, I have to accept some responsibility for the predicament in which he now finds himself. If he is unable to raise the money to make his film, what will he do? And as his father, what should I do? How best can I support him?

My contract with WordPress forbids from using this site for commercial purposes; but if you want to know more about what my son and his friends are doing, you can click here and follow the subsequent link. And remember: Carpe Diem.

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2 thoughts on “Fathers and Sons

  1. “How best can I support him?” you ask about Ewen’s project. Well, this is a good start! I’ve visited his Kickstarter page and have made a donation. Congratulations on having raised such a thoughtful, creative, articulate son. Guess the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, eh? 🙂 Cheers!

  2. Thank you so much, Heather. Ewen is already taller than me, and I expect he will outgrow me in every other way. As Bob Dylan once said (and I paraphrase), we eventually reach a point in life when the dreams of our children seem more important than our own. I reached that point a long time ago.

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