Finding Blessings in Our Detours
In 1960 adapted for the screen from Dore Schary’s, Tony-winning Broadway play, Sunrise at Campobello, starring Ralph Bellamy and Greer Garson as Franklin Delano and Eleanor Roosevelt, is a classic film as enduring, elegant, and engaging as its principle characters. Crippled for life by poliomyelitis, the film focuses on FDRs courageous battle against the disease as well as his political foes, its time sequence several years before his initial run for the White House. Its name taken from Campobello, a summer home of the Roosevelt family, it was there that FDR was stricken with the illness.
Two of my forthcoming books: Guardians and Other Angels and “I Received Your Letter…” are set during the Great Depression and World War II, and since he was one of the principles of those eras, my research has given me enough of a working knowledge of FDR to recognize that embedded within Sunrise at Campobello is an important aspect of the man that is so subtly represented in the film that it is otherwise easy to miss, an aspect that is widely considered the ground of his greatness.
Among the many other appealing attributes of FDR was his charm, his enthusiasm, his total engagement in his life, but there was another side of him that was off-putting. He was arrogant and shallow, at least until the poliomyelitis pulled him down several pegs, until it humbled him, until it grew him into an empathetic and a multi-dimensional human being of the sort required in the leader of his nation, the central figure charged with guiding it through the worst era of its history.
He says it himself in the film. FDR and Eleanor are sitting side by side on a sofa in their home. They engage in a small debate over which one of them got the better deal in their choices of a marriage partner. He says he did. She says she did. Seizing their poignant moment of true confessions, he tells Eleanor that during the course of his illness, he had experienced an epiphany, one that revealed to him his deficiencies of character, and that furthermore would have gone unrecognized absent his being crippled. Simply and sincerely he expresses gratitude for the setback that steered him onto a new and better destiny.
Carrying a heavy theme in a light-hearted package wrapped in his signature style is Woody Allen’s 2011 masterpiece, Midnight in Paris, a film worth viewing time and again. Layered with incisive messages that strike you close to home and stab you in the heart, nevertheless it is such fun to watch contemporary performers show up in cameos as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald; Cole Porter; Hemingway; Faulkner; Picasso; T. S. Elliott; Matisse; Dali; Lautrec; Man Ray; Degas; Gauguin; Gertrude Stein, among others.
Another coming-of-age story, a young and highly successful Hollywood scriptwriter nursing his dream to write novels, portrayed in a parody of Woody Allen by Owen Wilson, is stricken with “Golden-age thinking,” the romantic but erroneous notion that a life in another time would be better than ones actual life. Accompanied on a trip to Paris by the mean-spirited and condescending trio of her parents and his fiancée, played true-to-character by lovely Rachel McAdams, the complete incompatibility of the pair unravels as the writer jumps through hoops to extricate himself from McAdams and her entourage to pursue his private love-affair with Paris.
Wandering the city streets alone one night, in a clever time-warp, the writer is transported to Paris of the 1920s where he hobnobs with famous literary and artist figures of that age. Even Gertrude Stein, flawlessly played by Kathy Bates, agrees to read and critique the unfinished manuscript of his novel. Convinced that he is finally in the time and place where he belongs, he indulges his fantasy to the hilt and becomes infatuated with beautiful Marion Cotillard’s Adrianna, the legendary mistress at one point of Braque, then of Modigliani, followed by Picasso, then Hemingway.
Discontent with her own era, Adrianna entices the writer into traveling even further back in time with her to the turn of the century where in an encounter with Degas and Gauguin, the great Impressionist painters express their desire to have lived in the time of the Renaissance. Surrounded by such pervasive discontentment, the writer has an epiphany. He realizes that everyone’s present time, throughout the whole of time, was and is a little unsatisfying because life always has been, always is, and always will be a little unsatisfying, and if he is ever going to write anything worthwhile, he has to get rid of his illusions.
He breaks up with the nasty fiancée, decides to stay in Paris and follow his dream of writing novels, hooks up with a lovely and companionable French woman, and at the end of the film, side by side they walk in the rain into a blissful future.
The primary message I got from both of these films is that we have to try to find blessings in our detours—to make use of them somehow for they just might lead us to better circumstances.
Upon reading Ted Waterfield’s poems in my introductory posting on this site, “He Has As Many Gods As Stars”, my good buddy and master gardener, George Zonders, who turned me on to Midnight in Paris, also turned me onto Ogden Nash’s enduring poem, “Spring is Sprung.” This is George’s version of it:
Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I know where
The birdiez iz
Enjoy these first days of spring! And thanks for the poem, George.
Linda is the author of the soon-to-be-released novel, Guardians and Other Angels, published by Saga Books. She is also the co-author with Debra Shiveley Welch of the suspense novel, Jesus Gandhi Oma Mae Adams also published by Saga Books, and available at Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.
To view the online gallery of Linda’s artwork, log onto www.gallery-llgreene.com