Wrestling with Matters of Life and Death

We’re all aware that our lifetimes are finite in nature and that they will one day come to an end. But, as our lives unfold, many of us become progressively more concerned with how that end will ultimately come about. Will it be on terms of our own choosing? Or will we relegated to circumstances that are out of our control? And how much input will we have in determining the details of the process? Those are among the questions raised in the moving new end of life drama, “Blackbird” (web site, trailer).

Life for aging ALS patient Lily (Susan Sarandon) has become a shadow of what it once was. The fiercely independent free spirit, who could easily be the poster child for the causes of choice and free will, has led a rich, remarkable, experience-filled life on her terms. However, with the advance of her illness and failing physical state, she’s seen that existence shrink considerably. She’s lost the use of an arm, her breathing has become labored and her sense of balance has grown precarious. She still insists on being as self-sufficient as possible, often refusing help from others, like her dutifully patient, ever-well-meaning physician husband, Paul (Sam Neill). But, even with such strong-willed determination, Lily sees the writing on the wall and realizes that she’s only weeks away from being confined to a network of life-sustaining equipment that, in her view, will only prolong her suffering. For someone with her temperament, that’s worse than a death sentence.

With such a clear awareness of her circumstances, Lily decides to take action. She’s determined to bring matters to a conclusion on her terms, no matter what others may think or what the law may say. She thus sets plans in motion to make her exit in the way she wishes to leave.

In essence, Lily plans a celebration of life for herself and her family. She summons her nearest and dearest to her Connecticut seashore home over Thanksgiving weekend for what she wants to be a loving, fun-filled gathering that marks one last time for sharing long-standing traditions, heartfelt sentiments and joyful good times. And, at the conclusion of that time together, having said her goodbyes and with Paul’s assistance, she plans to quietly slip away, letting go of her pain and courageously moving on to whatever grand adventure awaits her next.

Lily sees the weekend as a time of great expectations. Yet, despite the best laid plans, it also has the potential for emotionally charged upset and debates about the wisdom of her decision, despite agreements made in advance to keep the mood positive and prevent those issues from arising. Nevertheless, considering what’s at stake and what’s about to transpire – a weepy and trying time fraught with possible legal consequences – there’s a good chance that Lily’s plans may not unfold as hoped for. Add to that the revelation of long-hidden secrets and previously unexpressed emotions, and you’ve got a volatile mix that the well-intentioned patient may not want – and that she may have never seen coming.

Gathering for the weekend are those who have long been in Lily’s life: her elder daughter, Jennifer (Kate Winslet), a privileged, uptight perfectionist who always wants to do the right thing and mercilessly insists that others do the same; her flighty, ungrounded younger daughter, Anna (Mia Wasikowska), whose mysterious disappearances and erratic behavior always keep the family guessing; Jennifer’s husband, Michael (Rainn Wilson), an impish, playful sort who tries to deflect conflict but ultimately has difficulty keeping a lid on his frustration; Anna’s on-again/off-again lesbian partner, Chris (Bex Taylor-Klaus), an old soul in a young body who frequently provides much-needed wisdom in the midst of chaos; Lily’s grandson, Jonathan (Anson Boon), a chip off his free-spirited grandmother’s shoulder; and Lily’s oldest friend from college, Liz (Lindsay Duncan), a kindred spirit who has been with her through all the good times and remains fiercely loyal even in the face of death.

Over the course of the weekend, Lily has an opportunity to spend time with each of those in attendance, saying what’s gone unsaid and seeking to wind up any remaining unfinished business. The attendees also have an opportunity to share time with one another, expressing their feelings and having a chance to address outstanding issues. It’s a time for being spontaneous and uninhibited, such as celebrating an early Christmas, something that Lily realizes she’d be in no shape to properly enjoy if she chose to postpone her self-inflicted demise for a month. And it’s also a time to wax philosophically about issues like taking chances, breaking rules, exercising one’s power of choice, and knowing when to hold on – and to let go.

It’s an experience that proves remarkably rewarding, devastatingly difficult and curatively purging, all at the same time. It gives everyone an opportunity to take away from it exactly what he or she needs. And it’s something that ultimately will touch everyone in ways never thought possible. But, then, none of that would have happened were it not for their willingness to exercise their powers of choice and free will, and isn’t that what life is ultimately all about?

As I have written on a number of occasions, choice and free will are among our most precious birthrights, and we should make every effort to value them, using them judiciously in the ways we lead our lives. However, all too often, we disavow these attributes, claiming that we’re unable to exercise them or, even worse, contending that they don’t even exist. Such practices significantly diminish our lives, leading to existences that are unfulfilling and full of regrets, truly sad outcomes to be sure. Which is why the example Lily sets is so valuable, showing us the importance of our capacities for choice and free will in our lives, even in matters as weighty as how we die.

How we make use of these aspects of our lives depends greatly on our thoughts, beliefs and intents. They drive what happens, framing the nature of our existence and everything within it. And, if we want that experience to be all it can, we had better be careful how we wield that power. Do we want a life that consists of what fulfills us? Or do we capitulate to the dictates of convention, even if it’s not what we want, simply because we’ve allowed ourselves to believe we have no choice in the matter?

Lily has lived her life under the assumption that she’s in the driver’s seat. She has long decided what she wanted. She has followed her heart, even if it’s not the path that others would take or whether they would approve of them. In fact, she’s not about to let trifles like the law or the opinions of others dictate how she lives her life – or leaves it behind. To do otherwise in any of these contexts would go against her very nature, her true, authentic self. And she’s not about to stop now, even as her journey approaches its end. As she comes upon what is perhaps the most important event of her life, she’s patently unwilling to go through it on terms that don’t suit her.

As Lily reflects back on her life over the weekend, she reminisces about the many vivid, colorful experiences she’s had during her time on the earthly plane. She speaks fondly of the chances she took, unafraid to bend or break the rules to provide herself with the satisfaction she sought. She relishes her sexual adventures, her enjoyment of art and music, her drug experiences, her times as a wife and mother, and much, much more. Together those elements have woven a rich tapestry of experience, one characterized by experimentation, fulfillment and a willingness to courageously dismiss her fears. This combination has made for a truly heroic journey, one that we should all seek for ourselves during the time we’ve got.

Lily hopes that her decision to stage this final farewell will not only bring her what she wants, but that it will also set an example for those closest to her. She sees it as an opportunity to celebrate the life she has led, an experience she hopes others can appreciate and adopt for themselves to add more joy to their lives. She looks at her daughter Jennifer, for instance, and sees someone who has everything going for her but doesn’t enjoy it because of her neurotic demeanor. Moreover, she’s concerned that Jennifer’s constant worrying and niggling attitude are diminishing her quality of life, an outlook that Lily fears could be rubbing off on her grandson, filling his head with foolish notions and pointless preoccupations at a highly impressionable time in his life. Consequently, Lily doesn’t hesitate to make her opinions known on these fronts, hoping that they’ll have an impact in reshaping the beliefs that Jennifer and Jonathan hold. This becomes pointedly (and hilariously) apparent during the family’s impromptu Christmas gift exchange in which Lily gives each of them presents that poignantly reflect her views, hoping that they’ll make her viewpoint more than abundantly clear.

Of course, if we truly want such a satisfying life for ourselves, we need to discern what makes it worth living and what doesn’t. And, to that end, we need to be able to determine what’s worth keeping and what to release, particularly when it comes to what no longer serves us, even if that means our very physical existence. Lily has a keen sense about this, and, when she comes to realize that her failing physical state is preventing her from living the life she wants, she knows what she needs to do. With no likely prospect of recovery in her future, she consciously decides to avoid the probability that seems unavoidable. She thus embraces beliefs that make such an outcome possible and will subsequently bring it into being.

Despite good intentions and seemingly clear foresight, however, that doesn’t mean everyone involved in this gathering will whole-heartedly share Lily’s aims. After all, those attending the farewell weekend are about to lose their beloved wife, mother and friend. As supportive as they might want to be, there’s still a sense of hesitancy lingering in their thoughts and beliefs. Can they really go along with Lily’s plan, no matter how much they love her? And, even if they fundamentally disagree with her decision, can they keep up a sufficiently credible front to reassure her otherwise?

Nevertheless, as difficult as all of the foregoing may seem, and even with a vague awareness of others’ doubts, Lily is determined to push ahead. She knows the time has come. But, even with that knowledge, over the course of what’s to be her final holiday celebration, she wants to remain committed to living in the now, fully engaged in the moment and all it has to offer. And that’s wise advice for all of us, especially in light of how preoccupied so many of us are when it comes to the way we live our lives, overly concerned with a past that’s come and gone or a future that has yet to arrive. Lily wants to immerse herself in the warmth and love around her at the time, while simultaneously expressing gratitude for what she has and having no regrets for what she doesn’t. With the end nearing and the time remaining to enjoy her life running out, she wants to make the most of every moment left while she still has the chance, an enviable example to follow.

The right to die is one of those topics that tends to divide society along rigidly defined lives, and that’s very likely going to be the case with a film like “Blackbird.” Director Roger Michell’s touching, thought-provoking, deeply moving drama, an American remake of the Danish offering “Silent Heart” (“Stille hjerte”) (2014), examines the dynamics within a family wrestling with this notion while honestly and lovingly addressing the heartfelt feelings associated with such a profound and intentional choice. While a few story elements don’t work quite as well as they probably could have, most of the narrative is handled sensitively and realistically, all brought to life by the superb performances of its stellar ensemble, particularly Sarandon, Neill, Wasikowska and Duncan. This release will obviously disturb some viewers, but others will be deeply moved – and fervently reminded that what we do with our lives (especially in the now) is up to us and no one else’s business. The film is available for online streaming and in limited theatrical release.

It should be noted that “Blackbird” has been the victim of some unfair criticism, that it’s yet another manipulative tale about a dying protagonist, an admittedly overworked cinematic theme. However, characterizing “Blackbird” as a picture about a dying protagonist oversimplifies what it’s seeking to address. It’s not a story about a character dying but about a character’s right to die, a topic that needs to be examined and debated much more fully than it has been. With the exception of a few films like “Whose Life Is It Anyway?” (1981) and the made-for-cable offering “You Don’t Know Jack” (2010), the right to die has been something of a taboo subject. But, as we should all be aware, death is indeed part of life, and how we approach it shouldn’t be a subject that’s hushed up or only spoken about in whispers in dark corners. We should all have the right to determine the conditions of our departure if we choose to do so, and pictures like this help to draw the subject into sharp focus. They should be applauded for their candor and forthrightness in helping to make it possible for us to move on to our own next grand adventures in the ways we seek.

As we approach death, a time when we often find ourselves at our most vulnerable, we may well feel disempowered and lacking in self-worth. Those conditions are bad enough in themselves, but, when we add to that indignities that magnify the state we’re in, we might feel even more despairing, compounding the woeful circumstances we’re already experiencing. Is that how we really want to spend our last days? Or do we want to create conditions that will uplift us and allow us to make peace with ourselves during such a trying time? Achieving such an outcome may push us to take charge of the situation, forcing us to be strong and resolute at a time when doing so could be fundamentally difficult. But, if that’s the price we must pay, then we must steel our resolve to realize the fulfillment we seek, no matter what others may think. It’s our life that’s at stake, and we have a fundamental right to live it the way we desire, even (indeed especially) in its precious final moments.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Wrapping Up Reeling

With Reeling 38, the Chicago LGBTQ+ International Film Festival, now in the books, it’s time for a look back at the festival’s first all-virtual program. Find out more by reading “Wrapping Up Reeling,” with brief reviews of 18 movies that I screened during this year’s event. In addition, below please find an extended review of my favorite offering from the festival, “Cicada,” with a full write-up available by clicking here.

Celebrating the Joy of Creativity

Style – it’s something that can be challenging to get right but all too easy to get wrong. Achieving success at it can seem like a random, even capricious endeavor. But when it works, it works. And, if someone manages to make a habit out of catching the brass ring, that’s one fortunate individual indeed. Such has been the case for a truly inspired innovator who has left his mark on the design world in multiple milieus, the subject of the engaging new documentary, “House of Cardin” (web site, trailer).

Designer Pierre Cardin has left – and continues to leave – an indelible mark on the world of fashion. Born in Italy but having spent nearly all of his life in France, the 98-year-old Cardin initially was encouraged to study architecture at the behest of his father, but he was much more interested in dressmaking. In the 1940s, he worked in several Parisian design houses, most notably that of Christian Dior. He rose through the ranks quickly, in large part because he could do more than just sketch designs; he was also a tailor who knew the mechanics of what it took to successfully create finished pieces of clothing. It earned him enough of a reputation that he was able to launch his own house in 1950.

Through his work on several successful noteworthy projects, Cardin’s profile rose rapidly. But his contributions to the fashion industry involved more than just his inventive designs. At a time when high fashion was generally considered something for the genteel elite, he leveled the playing field by creating ready-to-wear clothing that could be made and sold affordably to the masses. And he made his mark by labeling all of his creations with the now-familiar Pierre Cardin logo. Such practices set the industry on its ear as they “democratized” the world of couture, making it possible for everyone to now purchase designer items, not just those who looked down their noses at those who couldn’t afford high-priced pieces.

But Cardin’s innovation didn’t stop there. As the free-wheeling ʼ60s revved up into high gear, he introduced designs that drastically changed the look of what was considered fashionable. He employed simpler, cleaner lines, with far fewer ruffles and folds. He used geometric patterns, modernist influences and bold colors, qualities rarely seen in what typically qualified as haute couture. And he introduced elements found in fashions from around the world, most notably Japan. These were radical departures from what was being touted by most of the French design houses.

The innovative creations of fashion designer Pierre Cardin provide the focus of “House of Cardin,” a new documentary charting his storied career, available for online streaming. Photo courtesy of Utopia.

Cardin didn’t limit himself to the world of women’s fashion, either. He introduced lines for men, something that was almost considered unthinkable at the time. The prevailing wisdom was that the majority of men had no interest in such matters (and that those who did were of questionable masculinity). However, Cardin smashed through such stodgy and prejudicial attitudes, introducing the male of the species to new and more inventive clothing options, offering them choices that they never had before.

As the Cardin label gained wider acceptance and recognition, he began licensing it to the manufacturers of other consumer goods. This included everything from cosmetics and perfumes to eyewear and even aircraft and automobiles, such as the 1972 Cardin Javelin from American Motors. Such efforts enabled budding designers working under him to gain exposure for their creations while simultaneously building the Cardin empire.

Given his success, Cardin was also anxious to give something back. In addition to providing a platform for rising stars in the design industry, he did the same for emerging artists and performers, bankrolling venues for their work. This enabled him to fulfill his own vicarious dreams in the arts while giving protégés and performers much-needed exposure, all backed by a name that carried considerable clout and credibility.

While the film focuses largely on Cardin’s creative and business ventures, it also examines his personal life. Given that Cardin has typically been a very private individual, this subject does not account for a sizeable part of the narrative. But, through archive footage and interviews with friends and colleagues, viewers learn of Cardin’s presumed relationships with actress Jeanne Moreau and fellow designer Andre Oliver.

Looking back on Cardin’s storied career, he has truly achieved a lot in his years of work. But, even at 98, he remains active and engaged in his various ventures, believing that, if he ever stops, he’ll lose his reason for being. We should all be fortunate to be that vital at such an age, but, as a designer, who better than he to create a pattern for us to follow?

Considering Cardin’s numerous innovations, many would call him a visionary. He transformed fashion and consumer product design, and he reshaped these industries in ways that broke down conventional barriers. And those changes have proved to be more than just passing fads, persisting since their implementation. But just where did these revolutionary new ideas come from?

Imagination is the starting point of virtually any new conception. But they only come into being through the power of our beliefs, the building blocks of our existence. In Cardin’s case, he drew upon them constantly in taking his ideas out of the world of imagination and into the realm of manifestation. And, even if he had never heard of this notion, based on his track record, it’s obvious he’s a master of its principles, and he put that knowledge to work in myriad ways.

Unlike other designers, Cardin had a distinct advantage that helped drive his success. As noted previously, his tailoring skills set him apart by providing him with the knowledge of the workings of clothing design. Because of that, he had both the ability to envision and create new looks and the knowledge to understand how to make them work. The ability to both devise new conceptions and develop the means to bring them into being is a powerful combination, one that’s crucial to success in any field of endeavor. Cardin set a powerful example in that regard, one that we could all learn from, no matter how we employ these principles in our lives.

Much of Cardin’s success is also attributable to his ability to see past convention and limitations. In an industry steeped in tradition and an established mindset, change came slowly, despite a reputation for intrinsic creativity. The influences that Cardin drew upon and subsequently incorporated into his work often came from outside the sources his peers used – modernism, color, geometric patterns, cross-cultural elements, and even the impact of burgeoning developments in science and technology. By thinking outside the box and tapping into these unlikely influences, Cardin created radically new and different fashions. Add to that his savvy marketing skills, which also pushed through existing barriers, and the industry suddenly had a bold new innovator in its midst.

But, perhaps more than anything else, there was Cardin’s sheer enjoyment of the creative process, something that’s still apparent in his life as it nears the century mark. The drive to continually manifest new creations is powerful – and empowering – a practice that helps to keep the mind of the nonagenarian vibrant and vital. And, in the process, its power benefits us all, too, providing us with an ongoing resource of inventive new designs, adding to our quality of life. If anyone ever doubts the benefits that creativity affords, one need only look to this example and see what it has done for both the creator and his beneficiaries.

This rare look into the life and career of this design visionary provides an insightful examination of how one man almost single-handedly changed an industry and its output. Directors P. David Ebersole and Todd Hughes have compiled an impressive array of archive footage and recent interviews with Cardin and his friends and peers, such as fellow designers Jean-Paul Gaultier, Hanae Mori and Philippe Starck; Vanity Fair contributor Amy Fine-Collins; artists who have benefitted from his support, including Jean-Michel Jarre and Alice Cooper; and actresses and models who have worn his designs, such as Naomi Campbell, Sharon Stone and Dionne Warwick. While the film has an occasional tendency toward worshiping its subject, its treatment is generally reverent, respectful of his accomplishments and careful to avoid delving too deeply into private matters that are truly no one’s business. This delightful documentary is an ideal choice for those who appreciate good design, no matter what form it comes in. The film is available for online streaming.

Some may find today’s preoccupation with designer labels shallow and banal, and a good argument could be made in favor of that notion. However, if we look past the logos, the tags and the embroidered stitching, it’s entirely possible to find some truly inspired inventiveness, especially when it comes to stylish new looks. Pierre Cardin has made tremendous contributions in this regard, and he helped to make them more accessible to a wider audience than his predecessors. That’s quite an accomplishment – and one that looks great, too.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

The Path to Healing

 

Healing old wounds can be a long and painful process, especially if we’re unclear about the nature or source of the hurt. When we are, though, the path to overcoming trauma can be a seemingly unending one in which the anguish never goes away, leaving us feeling as if there’s no hope for recovery or a future worth looking forward to. But, many times, and often quite unexpectedly, something happens that sets us off in a new direction, a development out of left field that works wonders, serving as a soothing balm for those emotional lacerations. So it is for a pair of injured souls in the profoundly moving new love story, “Cicada” (web site, trailer).

The summer of 2013 has been a difficult one for Ben (Matthew Fifer). The twenty-something bisexual Gothamite is confused about his life. Something nebulous is eating away at him, but he’s not sure what.  He escapes by plunging into drunken binges that usually lead to spontaneous sexual encounters with men and women, many of them virtual strangers. But those alleged pain-deadening escapades do little to soothe his distraught feelings, which have come to include both emotional and physical components. The same is true of his visits to see his mother, Debbie (Sandra Bauleo), and sister, Amber (Jazmin Green Grimaldi), at the Long Island home where he grew up; they provide little comfort and sometimes make things worse. In fact, the trilling of cicadas recently emerged from their 17-year underground hibernation cycle in his childhood backyard inexplicably seems to exacerbate his anxiety.

Ben’s state of mind is not lost on his friends, either, such as his emotional, empathetic New Age pal Hudson (Bowen Yang), and co-workers like Theresa (Jason “Freckles” Greene), a flamboyant colleague with whom he has a clandestine tryst. The same is true for Bo (David Burtka), one of the wealthy gay daddy types for whom Ben provides interior restoration work; Bo recognizes that something’s up with Ben, even though that doesn’t stop him from trying to make a play for the handsome young contractor, a gesture that quietly, but decidedly, creeps him out.

So how does Ben cope? For starters, he pays frequent visits to his physician, Dr. Dragone (Scott Adsit), who, after countless tests and examinations, constantly tries to reassure him that there’s nothing physically wrong with him, despite the patient’s assertions to the contrary. And, when the answers he seeks aren’t forthcoming, no matter what the source or situation, Ben tries to cover his feelings and deflect the inquiries of others by simply making jokes. His kindreds recognize what he’s doing, and, when they press him on this defense mechanism, he refuses to give them satisfaction by simply cracking more quips. He ends up walling himself off from others, except, of course, when sex or alcohol are involved, diversions that he continues to indulge in with gusto and little restraint. But, when Ben begins hearing recurring news reports about the trial and conviction of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, a sexual predator accused of the serial abuse of underage boys, bells go off that make him more uncomfortable than ever.

Partners Ben (Matthew Fifer, foreground) and Sam (Sheldon D. Brown, background) face a number of challenges in forging their budding relationship in the heartwarming and heart-wrenching new drama, “Cicada.” Photo courtesy of The Film Collaborative.

Circumstances begin to change when Ben pays an impromptu visit to a bookstore, arguably more to cruise than to peruse the merchandise. He does find something he likes, though, when he strikes up a conversation with Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), a handsome fellow shopper. Their flirtatious exchange leads to a leisurely stroll and then to a number of subsequent meetings in which they discuss an array of subjects and enjoy one another’s company. There’s considerable chemistry between them, but their relationship is slow to turn physical as Sam reveals that he’s recovering from surgery, a procedure that has infringed upon his ability to engage in sex. Sam assures Ben that the situation is temporary, news that delights them both, since they’re clearly anxious to get busy.

Despite the steamy attraction between them, however, their current circumstances give them an opportunity to get to know one another. This allows Ben, for perhaps the first time in a while (if not ever), to develop a personal rapport with someone before jumping in the sack, something he truly seems to like. And, when the physical component of their relationship finally kicks in, he develops a genuinely strong bond with his new beau. Ben at least is on his way to forging a solid, committed, meaningful relationship.

However, as their bond evolves, it’s apparent that both partners are toting considerable baggage. Ben’s issues should be obvious, especially when he flashes back to his younger self (Beau Curran) and begins to get glimpses about what likely went on in his past. But Sam is troubled as well; he’s reluctant to step forward out of his self-imposed closet, largely because of his strict religious background and the dogmatic preaching of his pastor father, Francis (Michael Potts). Then there’s the mystery surrounding his surgery and the reason that prompted it, something Sam keeps under wraps, though clues emerge when he hears loud unexpected sounds, such as those associated with fireworks or cars backfiring.

Sam (Sheldon D. Brown), a gay man struggling to emerge from the closet, wrestles with physical and emotional issues as he seeks to forge a new interracial relationship in writer-director Matthew Fifer’s debut feature, “Cicada.” Photo courtesy of The Film Collaborative.

On top of all this, there are the challenges associated with the nature of their relationship. As an interracial couple, they have periodic issues with analyzing and understanding the dynamics of what makes them work – or not work – as a pair, both personally and in a larger social context. It’s easy to see how these matters can arise and get blown out of proportion, a situation made worse by the respective traumas they’re each dealing with. To their credit, though, they work at it, because they believe the relationship is worth it. In the process, they not only address their joint issues, but also their individual problems. Ben begins attending counseling sessions with Sophie (Cobie Smulders), a kooky and unconventional but effective therapist. Meanwhile, Sam engages in a series of visits to his father to discuss his circumstances. And, in a tremendously courageous act, he finally confesses what caused the need for his surgery, a painful, heartbreaking incident that nearly cost him his life.

When faced with circumstances as trying as these, it’s hard for many of us to hold up. But, as Ben and Sam come to discover, they each have ample reserves of personal bravery to draw upon, something that’s readily bolstered by the considerable love and support that exists between them. That can prove invaluable to anyone undergoing such hardships, but it can be particularly crucial to individuals like Ben and Sam who are experiencing challenges on multiple fronts. It can help them heal and build a foundation for the future. And that’s heartening to see, especially when it comes to partners who obviously love each other as much as these two do.

But, as Ben and Sam work through these challenges, they must each ask themselves what they make of their circumstances – not an easy task considering what they’ve experienced and what they are now up against. One can’t help but wonder why anyone should have to suffer through such trials and traumas, not only for the harm they inflict, but also for the aftermath that results from them. That’s particularly important in terms of how these incidents affect their views of life and themselves. In a scenario like this, Ben and Sam must examine their thoughts, beliefs and intents to determine their views about themselves, both for their present and their future. To do that, though, they must take a hard look at what they believe about their pasts, for those beliefs have come to frame where they are at the moment and, potentially, where they could be headed down the road. Of course, their reluctance to engage in such an exercise is understandable, considering what they’ve been through. But, if they hope to get past the hurts that come from such experiences, it’s the path they must follow. Confronting the experiences and the beliefs that have come out of them is thus crucial to get past them and move forward. Only then can they have realistic hopes for better days ahead.

When faced with emotional issues that won’t go away, Ben (Matthew Fifer, right) consults Sophie (Cobie Smulders, left), a kooky, unconventional therapist, in “Cicada.” Photo courtesy of The Film Collaborative.

A key aspect of this practice is rewriting the beliefs they hold about themselves. For Ben, for example, there appear to be beliefs associated with not being able to get past his troubles, in large part because he either can’t admit to them or, as time passes, can’t bring himself to confide them to others, even his soul mate. It’s as if he’s like one of those cicadas in his childhood backyard, hiding underground for much of his life to protect himself from those who would do him harm, a practice not unlike that of his insectoid counterparts. As for Sam, he’s dealing with constant shaming about the sins of homosexuality that played a key role in his fundamentalist religious upbringing, conditions that haven’t exactly been conducive to coming out of the closet and have subsequently prompted feelings that continually reinforce that outlook.

Thankfully, these situations are far from unalterable. They can be changed, as can the beliefs supporting them. It may not be easy, and help may be required. However, Ben and Sam are fortunate to have been astute enough to draw means of assistance into their lives. Ben has Sophie’s guidance, for example, to help him work through his trauma. And both Ben and Sam have each other to lean on, their loving support available whenever needed.

Even though these endeavors may take some effort, the payoff is certainly worth it. If nothing else, it enables Ben and Sam to work through their fears and live heroically. Such a mindset can fill them with a sense of courage that allows them to be themselves and build the lives they want, free of apprehensions and the ghosts that have been chasing them for so long. That’s quite a dividend for changing one’s mind and resolutely deciding to rid themselves of notions that no longer serve them.

This heartwarming and heart-wrenching look at how to resolve past traumas is inspirational for those who find themselves suffering and without hope. It demonstrates how the power of love can help those in pain move through their hurts, regardless of one’s sexual orientation. Writer-actor-director Matthew Fifer’s fact-based love story, augmented with material provided by longtime friend and writing-acting collaborator Sheldon D. Brown, tells a touching tale that’s peppered with inventive and whimsical touches of comic relief and features an excellent ensemble cast. This film will touch viewers deeply, earning every single bit of empathy that it draws out of its audiences, making it easily one of the most endearing and honest love stories I’ve ever seen.

“Cicada” has primarily been playing at gay film festivals and thus may take some effort to find, but it is well worth the effort. I’d like to hope this offering gets a wider release, either in theaters or via streaming outlets. It’s truly that good.

Just when we may be ready to give up on our path to healing, a miracle can come along to help us convalesce. It may not seem like much at first, but, as it settles in and becomes an integral part of our life, we may soon see it begin to work its magic, taking away the hurt and showing us that there is a reason to look forward to tomorrow. Love often fills that role nicely, providing us with what we need just when we need it most. And, with any luck, we won’t have to wait 17 years to see the results.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2020, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.