Fordham GSAS: Grad. Life: Lincoln, Skyfall Offer Inspiration, Escape for Grad.Life

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lincoln, Skyfall Offer Inspiration, Escape for Grad.Life

Hello Readers!
    I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving break! Now, as I have told my students, and also I have told myself in panicky breaths of self-determination, it is back to work for the home stretch of the semester! I have a deadline fast-approaching for myself, and my students have a couple papers due from now until classes end, so I know I will be in high gear for the last few weeks! I promise to be here for you with the blog to take us through to the end, hopefully with some humor, motivation, inspiration, stimulation, community, and insights that resonate with, or offer brief respite from, your end of the semester experiences.
    So, like many Americans this Thanksgiving weekend, this grad student took a bit of time with family and friends to see a couple of the holiday movie releases. (Side note: I did not go shopping! But, if you did and have any good Black Friday stories, please write in to share!) I was so inspired by the filmmaking that I decided my perspectives on them needed to be a part of Grad.Life.

     The first film I saw this weekend was Skyfall, the latest film in the James Bond series by Eon films. I saw it up in Lake Placid, amidst a lovely 3 day snow storm that did not cripple but rather enhanced the charms of the town. Quite beautiful!
    Now, I have watched Bond movies from an early age, as my dad was a huge fan of the character and the franchise and always seemed to be tuning into some AMC Bond double feature or marathon. But Skyfall has, by far, supplanted all the rest of the contenders as my new favorite Bond movie ever. Roger Ebert used the word "invigorating" when describing this film, and after seeing it, I know what he means.
     It is invigorating in terms of story-telling -- from the opening action sequence which sets the stage for the plot, to the innovative animated credits set to Adele's enchanting future Best Song Oscar nominee that tells the story in images, to the sweeping geographic journey for both Bond and the audience -- the film breathes life into the character of Bond like no other film before it. It sort of borrows from the Superhero movie narrative style and tradition, painting the picture of Bond's past and transformation into 007, and also drawing a haunting and fascinating origin story for this movie's villain. All of my training in literary analysis wouldn't let me miss its thematic exploration of how the passage of time affects humanity, the world around humanity, and the story about the world around humanity. But even thematically it was playful and interesting, with a subtle twist at the end that made time and sequence if not meaningless, than at least.... perhaps flexible is the right word?

    Then, I capped off the holiday with a viewing of Spielberg's Lincoln. As an Americanist literary student, I knew this would be right up my alley, but I had no idea how moved I would be by this story and the telling of this story by these filmmakers and these actors. I was reminded of when I first visited DC and was inspired by the inscriptions on the stones around me to study American literature in the first place. But the movie -- the movie is absolutely incredible. I was stunned by the performances: Daniel Day Lewis leaves behind his persona entirely, like he does in most of his roles, and seems to inhabit Lincoln's actual body and channel his spirit; Tommy Lee Jones made me cry and laugh; the "figures" we "know"and "don't know" from "history" receive beautiful, heartwarming, heroic, three dimensional treatment from some of the best character-actors in the business. At the heart of the movie is the story of Lincoln's crusade for the 13th Amendment to be passed. Although the Civil War rages on in its fourth year, the audience also sees Lincoln at war within himself -- his conscience, his politics, his desires, his role as a husband and father, his humanity, his guts -- they are all raging with life inside him, and we see a man working through what he believes, and what actions he must take, in a very human way. In the end, it is Lincoln's ability to really stand for his belief in the dream of democracy -- an ability to really represent what he believed to be the best interest of the idea of the United States, for the sake of it -- while also remaining true to his participation in the real and embodied community of humanity, that cuts the deepest into the audience's heart.
    Like all historical pieces, Lincoln serves as a reflection not of a historical time but of the times in which it was written and created. Lincoln serves as a mirror for our own shaky political times, and reminds us that it is minds, hearts, and bodies, not ideologies or documents, that make up our government and our democracy. And, Skyfall also destabilizes the idea of history, demonstrating that the way we were in the past is not so different than the way we are now.
    Both movies inspired me in ways that I didn't think were possible as I headed into the theaters. Both reminded me of why I love stories. Both made me want to keep going, to keep creating, to keep learning. And that is what I call the hallmark of a great cinematic achievement. Bravo to movie season! Grad.Lifers, let me know if you see anything that inspires you this season!
    Here's to taking a motivational break that will help keep your scholarly fire lit in the home stretch! Until next time, Liza

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