Choose Life

I just finished watching Sally Hawkins in Happy-Go-Lucky, a most entertaining argument against cynicism. It’s directed by Mike Leigh– the last time he made a movie was the tragic Vera Drake, and this movie couldn’t be any more different.

Happy-Go-Lucky stars Hawkins as Poppy Cross– poppycock!– a school teacher who is happy. Happy in the face of everything. Watching her makes you smile. Ebert: “I will deliberately employ a cliche: She is a joy to behold.”

They say happiness is infectious, but I’m not so sure. Poppy’s happiness doesn’t infect everyone around her. She tries, but for some people, her light just further illuminate the dark corners within them.

Hawkins reminds me of Miranda July, and this is about the highest praise I can give an actress. Or a person.

I’ve been thinking about cynicism a lot lately, for a variety of reasons. And I’ve begun to realize that some of my personal favorite films– the little movies that I champion for years– are the very opposite of cynicism. It is what Ebert has discovered is called elevation.

What I experience is the welling up of a few tears in my eyes, a certain tightness in my throat, and a feeling of uplift: Yes, there is a good person, doing a good thing. And when the movie is over, I don’t want to talk with anyone. After such movies I notice that many audience members remain in a kind of reverie. Those who break the spell by feeling compelled to say something don’t have an emotional clue.

When Heath Ledger holds the jacket to his face at the end of Brokeback, or when Djimon Hounsou says his farewell at the end of In America, or we see the “If you’re in, I’m in” note in Juno, or when Christine and Richard walk down the street in Me and You and Everyone We Know, or when Mr. Smith filibusters, or all of the movie Once.

Someone, somewhere is being good. Cynicism is the easy way out.

This morning, I was reading the “post-game” analysis of the guy who created the I’m with Coco poster, and he quotes Conans closing remarks from his last show:

“All I ask is one thing and this is… I’m asking particularly of young people… Please do not be cynical… It doesn’t lead anywhere. Nobody in life gets exactly what they thought they were going to get, but if you work really hard and you’re kind, amazing things will happen. I’m telling you, amazing things will happen. It’s just true.”

Reminds me of the words of another one of my muses, Miranda July:

I don’t want to have to do this living. I just walk around. I want to be swept off my feet, you know? I want my children to have magical powers. I am prepared for amazing things to happen. I can handle it.

Of course, elevation is no cure for the whole world. Just for yourself. Like I said, it’s not infectious. In Happy-Go-Lucky, Poppy’s happiness made a few around her notice what was lacking in their own lives.

I’ll leave you with this:

So why did I do it? I could offer a million answers, all false. The truth is that I’m a bad person, but that’s going to change, I’m going to change. This is the last of this sort of thing. I’m cleaning up and I’m moving on, going straight and choosing life. I’m looking forward to it already. I’m going to be just like you: the job, the family, the fucking big television, the washing machine, the car, the compact disc and electrical tin opener, good health, low cholesterol, dental insurance, mortgage, starter home, leisurewear, luggage, three-piece suite, DIY, game shows, junk food, children, walks in the park, nine to five, good at golf, washing the car, choice of sweaters, family Christmas, indexed pension, tax exemption, clearing the gutters, getting by, looking ahead, to the day you die.Renton

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