How Dreams Come True
We all have dreams, and we’d like to see them realized. However, many of us believe they’re unreachable objectives, pie-in-the-sky goals that can be envisioned though never experienced. But must that be the case? Is there no chance of them ever being materialized? It all comes back to those aforementioned beliefs, notions that can make all the difference, as illustrated in the delightful new period piece comedy, “Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris” (web site, trailer).
Working class London cleaning woman Ada Harris (Lesley Manville) leads a humble, sprightly, breezy life, but there’s an underpinning of melancholy beneath that cheery façade. It’s been 13 years since her husband, Eddie, went missing in action during World War II, yet she hopefully clings to the notion that he’ll somehow show up in her life again one day. In the meantime, she’s watched time pass her by, reconciling her to a meager existence. She’s been saddled with a need to work to make ends meet, mostly for unappreciative, irresponsible clients who are often in arrears when it comes to paying her for her services, forcing her to take in piecework sewing jobs to cover her expenses. And, personally speaking, there’s been no romance and little companionship in her life, save for occasional trips to the local pub with her friend, Vi (Ellen Thomas), where she matches wits with the resident barfly, Archie (Jason Isaacs). Still, despite these circumstances, Ada does her best to keep a smile on her face, forced though it may be at times.
Ironically, despite her challenges, Ada is usually the first person to step in when others need assistance. That’s apparent, for example, in her dealings with one of her clients, Pamela (Rose Williams), a young, beautiful but flighty aspiring actress. Ada frequently helps her out of tight spots, such as when she frantically needs to prepare for auditions for which she’s anything but ready. One might wonder why she’d make the effort to do this, but, as someone who knows hardship, Ada is only too happy to help when she can.
Of course, there are those who don’t hesitate to take advantage of Ada’s kindness, too, such as one of her supposedly affluent clients, Lady Dant (Anna Chancellor), who is perpetually behind in settling her accounts. She routinely makes feeble excuses whenever Ada broaches the subject, always making, but never keeping, her promises as the money she owes continues to mount. Ada manages to maintain her composure through these episodes, though it’s increasingly obvious she’s unhappy at being taken for granted.
Indeed, when one comes down to it, Ada asks for precious little out of life – just the basics with no need for extravagances. Well, maybe except for one, that is.
While working at Lady Dant’s home one day, Ada spies a gorgeous new Christian Dior gown that she purchased for her daughter’s upcoming wedding. She looks on in rapt admiration, wishing that she could have one like it for herself. But, when Lady Dant tells Ada how much she paid for it – £500 – the wind goes out of her sails. However, if nothing else, Ada is famous for holding out hope; just look at how long she has held fast to the idea that her beloved Eddie might return. And she draws on this reserve of optimism in thinking that somehow, someday, she, too, will have such a dress of her own.
It’s at this point when the wheel of fortune begins unexpectedly spinning in her favor. When an RAF officer (Freddie Fox) officially notifies Ada of Eddie’s demise, she learns that she’s entitled to a generous military widow’s pension. On top of that, she comes into money from winnings at the local dog track. And, when she adds it all up, she realizes she’s amassed sufficient funds to take a trip to Paris to visit the House of Dior to purchase her own haute couture gown.
Once in the City of Lights, however, Ada quickly discovers she’s a proverbial fish out of water. For instance, she has no understanding of how one goes about acquiring a Dior original. She walks into the salon expecting to paw through racks of frocks as if she were shopping at the neighborhood Woolworth’s. And, when Ada encounters members of Dior’s staff, such as Mme. Colbert (Isabelle Huppert), the snooty salon manager, she’s instantly made to feel as though she doesn’t belong – and must be hurried away, given that she’s arrived at a highly inopportune time: the day when the House is staging a showing of its latest collection. However, when Ada grasps what’s happening to her, she stands up for herself and claims she’s entitled to attend Dior’s sartorial soiree, saying that she arrived before any of the other invited guests – and that she has cold, hard cash in hand to make a purchase on the spot.
When Ada pulls out the wads of money from her purse, the attitude among Dior’s staff quickly shifts. The salon’s finance director, André Fauvel (Lucas Bravo), is particularly accommodating toward the unexpected arrival; after all, given the financial difficulties that the House has been experiencing, he’s only too happy to accept hard currency in exchange for one of Dior’s designs, especially since many other “clients” are notorious for being demanding but not paying on time (if at all). André welcomes Ada warmly and introduces her to some of the event’s high-profile guests, such as the elegant and charming Marquis de Chassagne (Lambert Wilson), a widowed nobleman who treats her with a level of attention and civility she’s never experienced.
Of course, there are others who aren’t nearly as genial, such as the eminently pompous and condescending Mme. Avallon (Guillaine Londez), wife of the city’s “garbage king” (whose workers, incidentally, are on strike at the moment, leaving the streets of Paris mercilessly strewn with trash). The very thought of having to sit next to a commoner like Ada during the fashion show positively infuriates the malcontented high-brow, prompting her to engage in deliberate acts of spite, just because she feels she could change the fortunes of both.
This event represents a turning point in Ada’s life, not only in terms of fulfilling her aspiration of acquiring the dress of her dreams, but also in reinventing herself. It’s a transformation that allows her to retain her best qualities while putting them to use for the betterment of her own life and those of others. For example, she draws upon this opportunity to put her capacity to help others to use once again, only this time in a bigger and more meaningful way. This becomes apparent when she plays the part of an impromptu matchmaker for André and one of the House’s models, Natasha (Alba Baptista). She also encourages Natasha to pursue her study of philosophy, an impassioned undertaking she finds far preferable to being a model, despite her stunning beauty. At the same time, she urges André to meet with M. Dior (Philippe Bertin) to explain his plan for helping to financially save the sinking design House, a proposal that could change the fortunes of both.
Ada uses this opportunity to change herself as well. Through her connection with the Marquis, for instance, she discovers that it may not be too late for romance. She also finds, in many ways, that she need not have to continue allowing others to treat her badly or to take advantage of her. She’s just as entitled as the blue bloods to the good things in life, even if she doesn’t have all of the elitist trappings possessed by others who are allegedly more sophisticated (many of which prove to be phony, by the way). And, as Ada develops a heightened sense of discernment about these questions, she comes to understand and appreciate what truly matters most in life – regardless of what dress they’re clothed in.
Ada’s trip to Paris thus turns out to be more than just for the purchase of an evening gown. She’s at last able to morph into the butterfly that had long been hidden inside her. It really is an experience in learning to see how our dreams can indeed some true. It’s an outcome that need not be limited to the realm of fairy tales. And it’s comforting to know that we can follow Ada’s lead and realize the same kinds of results for ourselves, no matter what we may be wearing.
In many ways, “Mrs. Harris” is a textbook primer on how to make our dreams come true. And, to a great degree, it draws from the notion that maintains we manifest our existence through the power of our thoughts, beliefs, intents, and, in this context, our dreams, which, in essence, are derivations of the foregoing. Through Ada’s experiences, we see how these aspirations materialize, even if they don’t necessarily take the routes we’d expect them to. But eventually these cherished conceptions arise, despite taking some seemingly wrong turns along the way.
When such misdirections emerge, it might be tempting and all too easy for us to give up on our dreams ever coming true. However, if we trust the process and hold fast to our beliefs, we realize that these seemingly erroneous turns are actually meant to guide us to what we need and want to make our dreams spring to life. An unexpected left turn, for instance, may lead us to a fortuitous synchronicity that enables all of our plans to fall into place, something we’d miss entirely if fortunes took us in the direction that we thought needed to be followed.
From this, it’s obvious that faith is an integral component in making this process unfold. And that’s important to recognize in that faith is itself a form of belief, one whose presence needs to be incorporated into the mix of beliefs driving the process of bringing us what we seek. It need not be employed in an extreme, obsessive form, as that actually might suggest a lack of trust that could undermine the manifestation process, but it needs to be present to a sufficient degree to signal that we’re comfortable with, and confident about, what’s going to result.
To make this work, we also need to rule out any potential impact that fears, doubts and limitations might have on this process, as beliefs in these elements can all undercut matters to a point where our dreams manifest either in distorted forms or not at all. One can see this to an extent with Ada at the opening of the film, where her long-held uncertainties about Eddie’s fate have kept her locked in place for 13 years. Her doubts about what happened, her fears of knowing the truth and the limitations that she has allowed to be imposed on her life have all kept her stuck in a less-than-satisfying life. The result of that has been a financially strapped existence without romance and virtually no prospects of seeing any of her dreams come true. However, when she unshackles herself from such metaphorical millstones, things begin to change in big and better ways. And who would think that such an outcome could arise from something as simple as a change in outlook? Indeed, anyone who understands that is well on the path to seeing his or her dreams come to life.
Of course, to see this process through, one must also be careful not to become a doe-eyed Pollyanna, either. Our clarity of thought and personal integrity – hallmarks of our true self – may well be tested along the way. These “tests” often challenge our ability to spot what works and what doesn’t in the fulfillment of our wishes. They help us identify pitfalls that can derail our plans by sharpening our powers of discernment. Some seemingly valuable influences, for example, may be helpful to certain aspects of the process, but that doesn’t necessarily mean their assistance will be never-ending; at some point, their usefulness may run its course, at which time they need to be jettisoned, because they can become dead weight or a hindrance if allowed to persist. Letting go of these influences may be difficult but nevertheless necessary if we’re to carry forward, a lesson that can subsequently challenge our faith, too. However, if we hone our discernment skills, we stand a much better chance of seeing things through to the outcome we hope for.
A keen sense of discernment can also help us see what’s truly most important. Ada comes to appreciate this as she wends her way through her adventure. The glitz, glamour and elegance of haute couture and the high life may indeed be quite seductive. But is it genuinely everything it’s cracked up to be? Is there a wisdom and mature sophistication behind the façade, or is it mere window dressing covering something inherently shallow? Are there aspects to life that are more important and more meaningful than being able to display the latest aesthetic trappings? Moreover, what are we to think when we see the truly ugly aspects of this supposedly enviable lifestyle firsthand, such as the inexcusable behavior of Mme. Avallon and Mme. Colbert, not to mention the garbage-laden streets of a city as allegedly unassailably elegant as Paris? These are determinations we must often make in situations like this, and that can be difficult, especially when the style hounds attempt to thrust attitude upon those of us who aren’t in their league of haughty fashion plates. Are their attempts at intimidation to be taken seriously, or are they merely defense mechanisms designed to cover a lack of knowledge of something more substantial? (Ask Ada if you want the answer to that.)
This is especially true when it comes to the exclusivity factor often associated with the high fashion world. Mme. Colbert, for example, prides herself on the reputation that Dior has established for itself as one of the most exclusive design houses in Paris, if not the world. Yet it’s become so select that it’s brought itself to the brink of financial calamity. What’s smart about that? Indeed, why can’t others (i.e., the average, everyday consumer) enjoy the good things in life just as readily as the financial elite do (especially given their level of fiscal irresponsibility)? Are the heads of the House so unenlightened that they can’t see the value in that? Where is their power of discernment? Ada’s influence in this scenario thus carries the seeds of helping Dior see its dreams come true, too – a new market and a stable financial footing for the future, all made possible by helping the organization’s leadership see what’s possible with a shift in beliefs.
Ada’s role in this development brings to light perhaps the most significant theme to come out of this story – that of living one’s destiny. Ada has spent 13 years patiently paying her dues while holding a number of dreams at bay, but now it’s time for her to liberate them, to see them come true. And it’s a valuable skill that she can employ not only for herself, but also with others by showing them the way to realize their dreams, helping them understand how to live their lives as their best, truest selves for their own benefit and betterment, as well as that of those around them. This is certainly apparent in how Ada’s odyssey plays out, but it’s also significant in the lives of many others around her, such as André, Natasha, the Marquis, M. Dior and even Mme. Colbert. There’s much to be said for that. But, then, after all, who wouldn’t want to see their dreams come true?
What might at first glance seem like a wispy bit of comedic fluff actually serves up more substance than expected, all dressed up in a deliciously charming package. Based on the 1958 novel by author Paul Gallico, writer-director Anthony Fabian’s third narrative feature tells the fantasy-like tale of a widowed working class English cleaning woman who, through a series of remarkable synchronicities, gets her chance to live her dreams. But, while on an impromptu trip to Paris, she becomes the beneficiary of much, much more as a result of a number of wondrous, magical experiences that “inadvertently” give her and others what’s needed – and what’s wished for. This engaging, uplifting tale thus waxes reminiscent of other films like this, such as the delightful offering “Under the Tuscan Sun” (2003). While the picture’s pacing could use some shoring up in the first act, the film nevertheless delivers solidly thereafter, with moments of triumph, bittersweet romance and heart-tugging joy. Credit the fine ensemble cast for making it all work, especially protagonist Lesley Manville and her persnickety and wickedly funny foil Isabelle Huppert. Then there are the positively gorgeous costumes, which are a feast for the eyes, an achievement that richly deserves to be rewarded come awards season. Indeed, don’t be misled by the seemingly saccharin-encrusted marketing for this one; there’s more to this sweet little charmer than you might think. The film is currently playing in theaters and online.
Wouldn’t it be ideal if we could always make our dreams come true? Given our current level of proficiency at this, we may not yet be adept enough to make that happen all the time, but, considering that many of us think it’s fundamentally impossible, we’ll never make any progress toward that goal until we become at least somewhat practiced at this skill. And, as Mrs. Harris proves, that’s entirely attainable. However, first we must convince ourselves that we can get that far to start with, which itself can be looked upon as a dream capable of being fulfilled. That’s a good place to begin, and, after all, we have to start somewhere. But, if we take that step, there’s no telling where it might ultimately lead us. And wouldn’t that be a dream come true!
A complete review is available by clicking here.
Making the Case for Fairness and Equality
It goes without saying that we’d all like to be treated fairly and equally. However, no matter how much praise and value we may laud on these concepts, there are countless instances where these principles are compromised or disregarded altogether, leaving some of us out in the cold. And, in the wake of such developments, it’s entirely understandable how those who are slighted come to feel angry, frustrated and desperate, placing them in a position of wanting to lash out for justice. So it is for a young Iranian woman in the 2016 domestic drama, “Inversion” (“Varoonegi”), now available for streaming (web site, trailer).
Niloofar Pirasteh (Sahar Dowlatshahi) would seem to have a fairly good life going for her. The responsible, self-reliant, unmarried career woman enjoys what appears to be a fulfilling existence in Tehran, despite the challenges of modern urban living. She runs the tailoring business founded by her late father and, with the aid of her good friend, Soudabeh (Setareh Pesyani). is now looking to expand it with a team of seamstresses. Niloo resides in a small but comfortable apartment with her elderly mother, Mahin (Shirin Yazdanbaksh), a kindly old soul who adores her caring, thoughtful daughter and the attention she provides. She’s also close to her teenage niece, Saba (Setareh Hosseini), who looks up to her auntie as a model of a modern woman. And, on top of all that, quite recently Niloo has begun dating Soheil (Alireza Aghakhani), the owner of a construction business who is the apparent epitome of a perfect gentleman. Who could ask for anything more?
However, before long, circumstances begin to change, and not for the better. Tehran’s infamous smog problem has been exacerbated by hot weather, creating an air quality issue that has curtailed outdoor activities and closed schools. It’s also made for a health crisis that can potentially harm those with respiratory issues, such as Mahin. And, in fact, that’s precisely what happens when she ventures outside without her oxygen, causing her to collapse with difficulty breathing. She’s rushed to the hospital and placed in intensive care, where, fortunately, the staff is able to successfully stabilize her condition.
In the wake of this emergency, Niloo and her family gather at the hospital to check on the patient. In addition to Saba, Niloo is joined by her elder siblings, her brother, Farhad (Ali Mosaffa), and her sister, Homa (Roya Javidnia), along with her brother-in-law, Mojid (Toofan Mehrdadian). They meet with Mahin’s doctor (Payam Yazdani), who says that Tehran’s air quality issue is severely affecting her health and that she should move to a new locale where debilitating smog is not a problem. But where? And who will accompany her to her new out-of-town home, given that she’s not capable of living on her own?
Homa recommends that Mahin should relocate to a vacation home that she and Mojid own in the north of Iran, where the air is cleaner and would be better for the patient’s recovery. Farhad agrees with the idea, and he and Homa decide that Niloo should join Mahin in her new home, a decision they make without asking their sister. They even go so far as to start making financial arrangements for Niloo, considering that she’ll have to give up her business, another decision made on her behalf without her input. But, then, in their view, why should they have to ask for her input? After all, she’s the younger sibling. What’s more, the decision involving Niloo’s forfeiture of her business is seen as benefitting the well-being of the extended family overall, as it will result in the sale of the building in which the tailoring operation is housed, the funds from which Farhad can use to pay off his own delinquent debts. How considerate of – and convenient for – him.
Needless to say, Niloo is not happy with being left out of these decisions. However, in a culture where the men and older siblings are accustomed – even expected – to make decisions for the family, Farhad and Homa figure, why should their younger sister’s opinion matter? But this argument holds no water with Niloo. By relocating, she’ll have to give up her apartment, her business and her budding romance, not to mention the way of life she so readily enjoys in Tehran. What’s more, she’s tired of her family making decisions for her without consultation. It’s become so pervasive in her life that Farhad has even gone so far as to make decisions for Niloo about her own car.
In circumstances like this, Niloo takes comfort in the fact that she can at least count on Soheil to be in her corner. But even that proves to be based on false hope when the allegedly perfect gentleman springs a surprise on her. And, at this point, the only ones who still back her are Saba, Soudabeh and Mahin, but, as emotionally supportive as they all are, there’s little of a practical nature that they can do to help out.
So what is Niloo to do? She decides she’s not willing to roll over and comply with what the others say, especially when they could be doing more to help out, despite their contentions that they have family and financial obligations that keep them from doing so. In response, Niloo offers alternative proposals. She fights back. She even goes so far as to refuse to cooperate with the decisions that have been made for her. But what’s the cost of this behavior, given that such defiant acts are seen as hostile and offensive in a society where the imposed decisions are supposed to be accepted without question?
Just as Tehran’s air quality issues would benefit from a temperature inversion in which the oppressive prevailing hot air is forced upward, allowing cooler atmospheric conditions to settle in to wipe out the smog, Niloo believes she would benefit from a comparable metaphorical change in her own life. The “hot air” that’s been spewn by many of her family members and virtually all of the men in her life has stifled her when it comes to simply being able to live her life her way. Will the conditions present in her existence dissipate? It’s a forecast she would undoubtedly like to see come true.
When others impose themselves on us without our permission or consent, the effect can be maddening. The level of frustration and anger is often staggering. And, when we find ourselves struggling under conditions where it’s difficult to retaliate against, or even to counter, those excessive burdens, those feelings are frequently amplified. Moreover, when such situations are generally accepted – even sanctioned – by cultural norms, these scenarios can become unbearable. So, needless to say, for those who are independently inclined, like Niloo, dealing with such impositions can be utterly exasperating.
However, as vexing as these circumstances can be, we’re often left wondering what to do. Can they be overcome to arrive at a satisfactory outcome? Well, that depends on how readily we believe such situations can be rectified. And that’s important, given that our beliefs determine how our reality unfolds. In a case like this, if we wish to attain a result to our satisfaction, we must believe that achieving it is truly possible. If we fail at this, however, we’re likely to be stuck with what’s being foisted on us. So what are we to do?
Understanding the complete range of beliefs involved in situations like this can be a valuable starting point, primarily because they’re seldom black and white. There are many in-between shades that can affect how circumstances unfold. For instance, beliefs associated with doubt can inflict considerable impact on these scenarios. No matter how strongly we may believe that amenable outcomes are attainable, if we allow doubt-based beliefs to figure into the mix, the hoped-for results can evaporate instantaneously. Therefore, isolating and eliminating any beliefs along these lines is imperative. Likewise, if we hold fast to beliefs in fears or limitations on what’s achievable, we’re likely to encounter comparable results. They, too, must be eliminated to get what we want, because, if they hold on, they’ll unduly interfere with the desired outcomes.
From where Niloo stands, these impediments could easily stand in her way, and there are even times when she seems to give them some credence in terms of how she responds. However, the more these obstructing beliefs attempt to impinge upon her, the more empowered she becomes in sweeping them away, difficult though that may be. She knows what she wants, and she’s determined to get it, especially since what she’s asking for is wholly reasonable.
By contrast, it’s curious to note how Farhad and Homa respond to Niloo’s challenges. They attempt to put up a brave, united front, believing that they’re entirely justified in implementing what they’re doing. But they certainly have their unspoken doubts, too, and they get in the way of them being able to pull off their schemes without hindrances, most notably as a consequence of the challenges put forth by their sister. Farhad and Homa resort to scorn, ridicule and even physical violence to counter Niloo’s arguments, growing increasingly defensive the more they’re openly confronted. And, when they begin to lose the support of Saba and Mahin, they become more desperate, but they also have increasing difficulty hiding their veiled shame. Suddenly the decisions that they saw as perfectly justifiable slam dunks are looking more questionable and in need of some much needed (and equally justifiable) scrutiny.
The ability to employ one’s power of discernment is crucial to this process as well, such as what happens when Soheil springs his surprise on Niloo. Prior to this, he has convincingly portrayed himself as a forthright, impeccably honest perfect gentleman, someone who would seemingly never think of trying to deceive Niloo or railroad her into a misrepresented scheme. He’s so smooth at this that he almost has her fooled, too. But, to her credit, Niloo is able to sense what’s going on before she’s in too deep, and her ability to detect these circumstances before becoming embroiled in them enables her to avoid the same kinds of conditions that her siblings are attempting to inflict on her, even if it’s presented in a more palatable, though nevertheless equally unfair, way.
Individual scenarios like the one Niloo faces serve as a vital starting point for initiating the process of changing the culture. The sort of grass roots effort involved in addressing Niloo’s case is akin to planting a seed that has the potential to promote change on a wider cultural scale. And, in a land where women increasingly want to enjoy the same kind of autonomy over their lives as their male counterparts do, these scenarios represent significant developments whose ripple effects could spread outward and be implemented more widely across Iranian society.
Movies that bring these issues to the public’s attention are thus important, for they help to enlighten those in need of hearing their message. As many films from overseas have shown in recent years, such as the recently released Indian offering “Fire in The Mountains,” women around the globe are increasingly tired of the prevailing disparity, standing up for themselves and no longer automatically capitulating to what others want (particularly men) just because they say so or are invoking traditions that are fast falling by the wayside. Matters of fairness and equality deserve to be heard, and pictures like this help to do just that.
Though somber and slow-moving at times, this 2016 domestic drama from Iranian writer-director Behnam Behzadi (now available for streaming) spotlights the one-sided attempts at imposing economic, career and living arrangement decisions on single women by their families, especially those who are married, and by men in particular. Like many films from Iran, the narrative here tends to over-explain things at times, but, in all fairness, this release also successfully resists the temptation to spoon-feed its audiences, relying on showing more than telling to make its points. This Cannes Film Festival nominee for the Un Certain Regard award serves up a story of inspiring assertiveness in the face of unfairly oppressive conditions, a story that’s sure to light a fire under those who feel repressed, making an impassioned case in favor of principles that are, and have long been, noticeably absent. This is truly an uplifting tale for women everywhere who feel needlessly put upon in simply trying to live their lives as they see fit.
When basic considerations like those addressed in this film go ignored, at some point they may emerge in a forceful, perhaps even exaggerated form. Such powerful notions can be denied for only so long before they erupt, no matter how diligently others may try to suppress them. And, for women like Niloo, who have begun to more aggressively assert themselves around the world, we had better listen to what they have to say lest we face circumstances that could be difficult to manage if allowed to manifest uncontrolled. After all, it’s simply the fair thing to do, and who can realistically find fault with that?
A complete review is available by clicking here.
Walking One’s Talk
Sticking to one’s principles is undeniably a noble pursuit. Walking one’s talk is indeed to be commended for its honesty and integrity. But living up to that aspiration can be quite the challenge, especially when one adheres to an outlook that draws the ire of others, particularly those in positions of power. However, if an impactful statement is to be made, following this course is essential, despite the dangers and difficulties, as seen in the inspiring new documentary about a trio of committed activists seeing through on their mission, “The Berrigans: Devout and Dangerous” (web site, trailer).
In the 1960s, the US was embroiled in a highly controversial conflict in Southeast Asia, one that divided the nation into two camps – devoted patriots and vocal opponents. This division came as something of a surprise, given that, in virtually all of the country’s previous wars, Americans had typically gone along with the party line without question. However, Vietnam was a different story. With the conflict being brought home into family living rooms on a nightly basis thanks to television coverage, ostensibly the first time a war had been reported on in such a manner, viewers bore witness to the carnage firsthand in a way that they never had before, and it didn’t sit well with many citizens, including those who considered themselves loyal patriots. They simply couldn’t understand the reasoning behind this war in a faraway land, one that was costing the lives of many young men who were being involuntarily sent off to fight for principles and purposes that were anything but clear. And the vague explanations regularly offered by officials, such as the US being present in Vietnam to make the world safe for democracy, just didn’t cut it with many Americans.
Thus opposition was born, and it only grew stronger as the death tolls rose and the prospect of “winning” the conflict became increasingly murky. Cries of “What are we doing there?” emerged and became commonplace. But, as frustrated as many Americans were becoming, they also wondered what they could do about it. How could they make a meaningful difference? That’s when activism took root.
Drawing upon their experience in the civil rights movement of the early ʼ60s, the growing ranks of anti-war advocates began stepping up and using many of the tactics employed in their earlier endeavors. These acts of civil disobedience were designed to get the attention of the government and the public to protest the insanity of the Vietnam conflict. But, given how entrenched the US had become in the war, anti-war activities needed to be intensified. It also called for leaders who would serve as symbols of the movement and what it stood for. And that’s where three unlikely figures entered the picture.
Roman Catholic priests Philip and Daniel Berrigan, along with nun Elizabeth McAllister, took center stage in the anti-war movement. They were not alone in this by any means, but the audacity of this trio’s measures surpassed those of virtually anyone else. They engaged in activities that many considering shocking, such as the destruction of public draft records, vandalism of the offices of corporations supplying the war effort and deliberate tax evasion. And they made little attempt to hide what they were doing. They earned the scorn of the FBI, with Daniel being the first priest ever named to the agency’s most-wanted list, a stunning counterpoint to the brothers being featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1971. Their anti-war activism subsequently (and frequently) landed them in prison for various infractions with sentences of differing lengths.
In later years, the Berrigans became involved in other activities, such as the founding of the Plowshares movement, an initiative aimed at drawing attention to the madness of nuclear arms. This undertaking included vandalism at a nuclear missile manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania, where they damaged nose cones and poured blood on documents and files. And, thereafter, the brothers became outspoken opponents to the government’s lack of compassion in its handling of the early days of the AIDS crisis. They even took on their own religious organization, with Philip and McAllister breaking their vows of celibacy and marrying in open defiance of the Church, a move that got them excommunicated.
Given the trio’s history of extreme antagonism, one might wonder how committed religious figures could become involved in such ventures. However, as they openly preached and wrote, they believed it was their duty to call out those who defied the ways of peace and the teachings of Christ. To do less on their part would mean that they were falling short of their calling. Some labeled them hypocrites for engaging in acts of violence that went against these very principles, but others applauded them for speaking up and drawing attention to the atrocities of officials who unhesitatingly sanctioned such brutality.
Good cases could be made for both points of view. However, as Americans look back on the war, nuclear escalation and the initial mishandling of the AIDS epidemic, many wonder how these events could have been allowed to occur as they did in the first place. It took courageous voices to make the public aware of what was happening on these fronts, people who were willing to put themselves, their lives and their futures on the line for the sake of their principles. There’s no telling where we might be today if they hadn’t said something, especially when so many others weren’t willing to do so, no matter how sincerely they may have felt about these issues.
As this film’s title suggests, the Berrigans truly were seen as dangerous for their activities. At the same time, though, no one could realistically question their devotion to their causes. And, considering how events played out in the wake of their activism, we should give serious thought to how we label them. For all we know, we could have been saddled with these issues far longer and with more dire consequences than we actually were if they hadn’t raised their voices. Now who could realistically take issue with that?
Given their acts and deeds, the Berrigans and their followers truly walked their talk, operating with integrity, honesty and sincerity, all in line with their true selves. Their lives mirrored the beliefs they held dearly in their hearts, and that resulted in the reality they experienced, for those notions shaped what emerged. It’s not clear whether they had ever heard of or studied this school of thought, but it’s obvious from what they created that they were masters of its principles, successfully bringing into being materializations in line with what they genuinely believed.
This is verified through many interviews with those who knew the Berrigans and/or their work, such as journalist Jeremy Scahill; historian/philosopher Howard Zinn; actor/activist Martin Sheen; Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg; activists/theologians/pacifists John Dear, Jim Forest, Stephen Kelly, Carmen Trotta and Jim Wallis; and the children of McAllister and Philip Berrigan, Frida, Jerry and Kate. These witnesses to history offer fitting tributes to their devoted peers and the changes they helped implement through their courageous, thoughtful work, all of which, simply enough, began with their commitment to their convictions.
A number of important qualities permeated their beliefs in helping to bring their manifestations into being. For example, their staunch fearlessness in the face of significant, oppressive opposition played a pivotal role in enabling them to carry out their daring plans. They refused to let apprehensions stand in their way, regardless of whether or not they were present at the time they launched into their ventures. The same could be said where limitations potentially stood in their way; they wouldn’t allow them to keep them from moving forward, no matter how formidable they might be.
Because of the success they achieved and the attention they generated, the Berrigans attracted a large number of followers. In addition to those noted above, they also won over the support of other activists, particularly among college students, proponents who had much at stake given their draft eligibility and the likelihood of being sent into the very conflict they were protesting against. By pooling their energies and putting them collectively behind mutual beliefs, they brought opposition to the war to the forefront of the American public, pressuring officials to bring it to an end as soon as possible. This is an excellent example of collaborative co-creation at work in which inspired souls work together to achieve a mutually sought outcome.
But, as the Berrigans themselves frequently and freely acknowledged, they saw their work as their destiny. This is a practice associated with being our best, truest selves for the betterment of ourselves and those around us. And, considering the causes the Berrigans got behind, who could find fault with them for trying to bring about results aimed at curing the world of unnecessary and unspeakable ills? Anyone who believes to the contrary should take a good, hard look at his or her beliefs and wonder why such atrocities would be considered acceptable.
In times of war and great social challenges, it can be difficult to remain devoted to one’s principles – no matter how strongly one feels about them – when prevailing circumstances threaten to curtail our freedoms and our ability to express our feelings about them. Yet there are courageous, unflappable individuals who refuse to let such conditions stop them, as evidenced by this superb documentary. Director Susan Hagedorn chronicles the efforts of these anti-war advocates who refused to remain silent. Through a wealth of archive materials and recent interviews with those who knew or worked with the Berrigans and McAllister, these three activists brilliantly come to life, both as advocates for their causes and as compassionate, committed individuals, all captured in a highly personal way. This material is supplemented with voiceover narrations of the brothers’ writings read by Liam Neeson and Bill Pullman, adding an intimate and thoughtful dimension to their portrayals. We owe much to these virtuous champions, and this eminently moving film makes that abundantly clear.
Unfortunately, finding this film may take some effort at the moment, as it has primarily been playing in special screenings and at film festivals, such as the St. Louis International Film Festival, where it won the Interfaith Award for best documentary feature. Nevertheless, this truly is a film worth seeing, especially for fans of 20th Century American history and those who value bravery and the merits of social conscience.
Stepping forward to address issues of significant social and political importance is critical to the health and well-being of a nation. When we lose sight of that, we stand to lose a lot, both from a practical standpoint and in the soul of a society. It’s at times like that when we need heroic individuals to stand up and point out where we’ve gone wrong, and thankfully we’ve had courageous figures like the Berrigans to do just that. They weren’t afraid to show us the errors of our ways and to take steps to help put us back on the right path. We truly need more advocates like them when we’re at critical junctures in our history.
Do we have any volunteers?
A complete review is available by clicking here.
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