Friday, June 03, 2005

a far too serious look at two movies

I have a friend that I used to taunt about how he had only seen two movies. The movies would change from time to time, but based on how he would refer to movies in conversation, it seemed like he had never seen more than two.

I've never been a huge movie goer, but I would certainly see a decent number of movies in the theater each year (and of course more on video and TV.) But when we moved to Israel, and started having kids, going to the movies became a rare treat. We go probably a couple times a year. One movie will be the annual Pixar flick. That's also the movie the kids see in the theater during the year.

The other movie will be something we've really wanted to see. Back in the summer of 2002, we were in the States for a few weeks, and we saw both Attack of the Clones and the first Spiderman movie. While AotC had sentimental value (we both loved the original Star Wars trilogy as kids), it was Spiderman that really got us. We really loved that movie*.

When Spiderman 2 came out last year, we went to see it in a special early screening for charity in Jerusalem. And then later that summer we saw it in an IMAX theater in the States. It was even better than the first.

And this week we "finally" made it to see the last installment of the Star Wars saga, Revenge of the Sith. I won't discuss the content of the movie, but I did enjoy it, and think it was certainly one of the best of the series.

But today I started thinking about the similarities of both stories. Both feature a young individual who discovers he has special powers, but cannot use his powers to save the life of a close family member. After this loss, he becomes determined to do everything to save the life of the woman he loves, all the while learning to deal with his super powers.

Obviously, Anakin and Peter deal with this challenge in very different ways, and end up on opposite paths. Peter realizes he needs to take on a secret identity to not put Mary Jane at risk, while Anakin ends up getting more and more arrogant, eventually following the path of evil. The lesson of "With great strength comes great responsibility" applies to both of them.

I've been trying to think about the significance of this parallelism. There seems to be no middle way, no chance that Peter could have become a hero without a secret identity, or that Anakin simply could have been a good Jedi. Partly it was because their extraordinary powers made things more extreme, but it was also because they wanted a romance with a "normal" person as well.

Any moral for the real world? Well, I just finished reading the biography of Chaim Weizmann, and here too is the story of someone who in one field had amazing accomplishments, but on the other hand his family life suffered greatly. I'm sure that there are many other cases like this.

I'm sure it seems like I'm taking this all too seriously - we're only talking about movies. But I think great movies, like other works of fiction, resonate with us because hiding behind an incredible story is a truth we can identify with. If we couldn't identify with the challenges the characters face, we wouldn't be pulled in.

And so I suppose that we all face the same challenge on some level. As humans we are on the one hand animals, but on the other hand created in the divine image. How do we handle this dichotomy? Live two separate lives, with two identities, until no one knows that our "Peter" is really "Spiderman"? Abandon our mission and say "Spiderman No More"? Become so obsessed with our powers that we ignore the reality of the world that exists alongside us?

I guess in the end, we're luckier than these fictional heroes. We have a real guidebook to let us know how to balance between the animal and the divine. We don't need to rely on hazy visions or dreams. However, the tension is constant, and it sometimes makes our own lives even more interesting than the best Hollywood blockbuster.

* One of the things that made the movie fun for us, was that despite the fact that we saw it in a very fancy theater, for some reason during the previews, there was no sound. But instead of people getting angry, they just started making their own sound effects. First there was an action movie with a car chase, where everyone was saying "vroooom!". And then came a preview for Scooby Doo, and of course the entire audience was talking like Scooby. When the sound came back (before the end of the credits), everyone was already a little disappointed. While the feeling of seeing a movie with a crowd adds to the experience, you never feel like you're interacting with the person next to you. (I think Rav Soloveitchik touches on this point in Lonely Man of Faith.) Here we had a chance to all work together. Really special.