Monday, August 24, 2009

Julia & Prawns

I recently saw two movies that got me to thinkin'. There are a couple of things that are unusual about this - first, that I've actually seen two new release movies in the theatre (I always have the best of intentions, but usually wind up missing them) and two, that I found such a strong link between two seemingly-different films.

The first was Julie & Julia, (careful - the the link has audio) which I will confess I liked quite a lot. The Julia Child segments were stronger for me that the contemporary story (and as I've learned more about "Julie" I can see why), but the entire movie has a joie de vivre about it and serves as a powerful reminder that life is meant to be celebrated and that joy takes cojones. (Yes, I'm mangling several European languages here; what of it?) Streep is an actress that I often find cold and mechanical, but here she's glorious. Stanley Tucci is fantastic as Paul Child and the relationship between the Childs is the cornerstone of the film. Amy Adams is goshed-darned cute and has some very nice bits and seriously - go see this film. It's a feel good flick and we can all use that these days. And don't be surprised if you find yourself wanting to try something more ambitious in the kitchen than what you usually cook.

In Julie & Julia, Julie has a hard time boiling a lobster for dinner. Julia Child has recommended that the squeamish first insert a sharp knife between the eyes of the lobster, then dump it in the pot. Now I happen to believe that lobsters are lower on the food chain that we are and that's it fine to eat them (I personally don't care for them, but I'm not a vegetarian, so I don't have higher ground to claim here). District 9 has a more troubling view of "prawns" as the seven-foot aliens have been nicknamed. (See, a dehumanizing nickname makes it easier to think of your opponent as non-human. Just flick through history and you'll see my point.)

I'll confess that I liked District 9 (again, careful of the audio) tremendously, but for very different reasons that J&J. I've heard it said before that good stories ask the big questions, and District 9 asks the doozies, like "What does it mean to be human?" Humanity, which is so joyously portrayed in Julia & Julia does not come across too well in District 9. It's a complex film, dealing with prejudice, class warfare, poverty, capitalism, media control, the ickiest sides of human nature, and the slippery question of how far is it ethical to go to be top dog? Keep in mind that this is not a movie for the kiddies. The aliens aren't all bad and, as sure as daylight, the humans are far from all good.

So what links the two? Both films celebrate humanity - one as a force for good, as humans defy convention and embrace creativity to more fully express their own humanity, even through something as seemingly unimportant as a pear tart. The other celebrates humanity's darker sides as humans wrap themselves in bureaucratic details to avoid dealing with the actual beings the rules are impacting. We are both and it is folly to ignore that ugly truth. If we do, we run the risk of turning into the people in District 9 and - trust me - you don't want that.

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