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First of all, my apologies to anyone who may have gotten a notification that I had published a post a couple of days ago.  I was testing to something out, and had meant to save my “blank post” as a draft rather than publish it.  Needless to say, it didn’t work.  Mea culpa.

Anyway…

Patricia_Arquette_Boyhood2

For parts one through three, click here

We begin with a quote-within-a-quote — in other words, with me referencing myself referencing a scene from Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood.”

Mason, Jr. finds his mother crying at the kitchen table.  Olivia notes a sudden realization that her life has been a mere series of benchmarks.  She has kids.  She gets married.  She gets divorced.  She gets married again.  She graduates college.  She finally gets the job she wants.  Her kids graduate high school…

…a series of incidents, with nothing to connect them all.

“I guess I just thought there would be more,” she observes.

Interestingly, this way of experiencing life bears a small resemblance to animal consciousness.  This, in fact, is part of what differentiates humankind from the animal kingdom.  Animals have senses and instincts, and these facilitate all kinds of sensory/instinctual “experiences.”  But an animal does not have an “I” to tie it all together; in other words, it doesn’t have personhood…an immortal soul.

To experience one’s life as a mere progression of milestones or experiences is as close as a human being can get to living the life of an animal.  So we can see why it causes Olivia (Patricia Arquette) — and, by way of heredity, Mason, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) such angst.  It is as if an animal — say, a kangaroo — were somehow forced to remain stationary, like a rock, tree, or other non-sentient creature; this would prevent it from doing what it is meant to do, and would therefore kill it.

So what is this “more” that we, as human beings, are wired for?

boyhood-ellar-coltrane-boyhood-inc-courtesy-of-sundance-institute1 We have a bit of a clue in Mason’s query about the existence of elves.  In addition to the many other traits that set us apart from the animals, we human beings have a peculiar tendency to look beyond ourselves.  This is very much ingrained in the way we were made:

It is not good for (. . .) man to be alone

-Genesis 2:18

Of course, this verse refers primarily to the marital aspect of man’s existence, and to how a man and a woman complete one another.  But since man is made for fellowship, he also seeks and desires friendship, partnership, filial bonds, etc.

But even these human bonds (wonderful and necessary as they are) are not enough.  We will probably never know whether elves or fairies ever existed (not on this side of life, anyway), but I think the fact that people of almost all times and places have believed in some variation of them speaks to us of each person’s desire for fellowship — or at least coexistence — not only between him/herself and other persons, but between the human race and other kinds of persons.

Beatific Vision

We do, by way of revelation and faith, know that God created the angels — non-corporeal spirits who share with humankind the status of personhood, of the “I” — to watch over and guide us.  Seeking fellowship with them would seem sensible.  After all, if neither anything in this world nor even human companionship can ultimately satisfy us, wouldn’t it behoove us to look to creatures that are greater than ourselves?

But would even this be enough?  Marvelous and splendid as he might be, an angel is a creature, and therefore limited.  To limit oneself to a close friendship with one angel is to do so to the exclusion of countless others, each singular and unique.  And lest we think we can solve that conundrum by putting stock in a generalized relationship with all of the angels — even one that involves varying degrees and kinds of relationship, as exist among human beings — a closer look would reveal that this, too, gives us only a higher and more beautiful series of phenomena that, like the events of Olivia’s life, are unrooted in someone or something solid.

What we yearn for is nothing less than infinite beauty, unlimited goodness, eternal truth…God Himself.

I really thought I’d be able to make it in four posts, but it looks like I’ll have to add one more.  The next and final post will flesh out this last point in relation to the movie.

Movie stills obtained through a Google image search; image of angels from Wikipedia

A Quote I Try to Live By

Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer.St. Paul-St. Paul, Romans 12:12

 

Image from Wikipedia

Boyhood_ImageFor parts one and two, click here

When our protagonist, Mason Evans Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) is about nine or 10 years old, he and his sister spend a fun-filled weekend with their dad, Mason Sr (Ethan Hawke).  Late at night in the latter’s apartment, Mason Jr. asks, with a wistful note in his voice, if it is true that there are no magical beings — like elves — in the world.

At first, dad ducks the question with a question of his own — namely, why elves should be considered more wondrous than, for instance, whales.  He asks Mason Jr. what he would say if he told him there was a sea creature so big that you could literally walk through its arteries.

“But…right this second,” Mason Jr. asks, “there are no elves in the world?”

Here’s where dad has to be straight-up.

“Technically, no,” he answers. “No elves.”

Mason Jr. is at the age where children typically stop believing in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy, etc.  In other words, this is when the natural wonder of childhood begins to fade, making way for the jaded “realism” of adulthood.

But it was not always that way.  While throughout human history there was always a distinction between childhood and adulthood based on growth, experience, etc., there was not in ancient or medieval societies the very sharp differentiation we see today.  Mankind’s natural openness to wonder did change from childhood to adulthood, but it was always maintained and amplified in one way or another, and found expression through various cultures, traditions, lore, religions, etc.

Patricia_Arquette_Boyhood2On the other side of this particular cultural phenomenon of our own, we have Olivia Evans (Patricia Arquette) — who, as I noted in part two,

notes a sudden realization that her life has been a mere series of benchmarks (…) …a series of incidents, with nothing to connect them all.

“I guess I just thought there would be more,” she observes.

What we are lacking, as a culture, is a comprehensive worldview, or horizon of meaning — a meta-narrative, as it were.  Whereas the Christian meta-narrative is what has defined Western for most of the past 2,000 years, the last several centuries have seen it become progressively more dominated by the meta-narratives of scientism and, derivatively, materialism.

According to the broadly defined mode of thought to which both meta-narratives belong, history is mankind’s long struggle against the “primitive,” “childish” darkness of religion (which proponents of this general worldview equate in all instances with superstition), culminating in its final emergence and self-assertion through science, technology, quantifiable knowledge, the conquest of nature, and even just general human ingenuity.

Please bear in mind that I am not trying to belittle science, technology, personal ambition (rightly ordered), or the achievements of modern man.  Far from it.  But the problem is when these come to define our world and our values.

When this happens, we close ourselves off to any notion of the transcendent and insulate ourselves against a teleological vision of a world charged with meaning and purpose.

Proponents of materialism and scientism will typically respond to this objection by pointing to the inexhaustible wonder of the world as present to us, much as Mason Sr. responds to his son’s question by pointing to the wonder of whales.

But in our hearts, we find that we must side with Mason Jr. on this one.  As wondrous as the world we can see and measure is, it is not enough.

Our exploration of “Boyhood” has led us down an interesting rabbit hole, for sure.  We’ll see, in part four, where it finally leads us.

Images obtained through a Google image search

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013

Pope Francis’ general intentions for the month of September, 2014:

Down_SyndromeThat the mentally disabled may receive the love and help they need for a dignified life.

Please Lord, let it be so.

Image from Wikipedia

For part one, click here

Patricia_Arquette_BoyhoodFamily life is a mixed bag in “Boyhood.”  An abler commentator could probably offer much deeper psychological, sociological, or spiritual insights; I will limit myself to a few thoughts, which can be divided (with utmost creativity) into these categories: Positive and Negative.

Positives

Mason Evans, Jr. (Ellar Coltrane) and his sister, Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), have the benefit of growing up with loving parents.  They have their responsible and nurturing mother, Olivia (Patricia Arquette), and their fun-loving and vibrantly affectionate dad, Mason, Sr. (Ethan Hawke).  Indeed, the importance of family is underscored all throughout the film.

In fact, at one point, Mason — now age 14 — sits in on one of Olivia’s lectures as a psychology instructor.  She is lecturing on John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory, which highlights the vital role of emotional and physical closeness between parents and their children not only for the children’s well-being, but for the survival of the human race.

Without that tight familial bond, Olivia rightly observes, “we’re doomed.”

boyhood_graduation

No doubt, the somewhat strained but very real family bond with which Mason grows up contributes to his becoming the young man we eventually meet — kind, open to people, able and willing to learn from his mistakes, and focused on his future.

Negatives

The major “downfall” of Mason, Sr. and Olivia can be easily identified: They had children too young.  And, evidently, they did so without discerning whether or not they were actually meant to be together.  It is not clear whether they had ever gotten married (if I remember correctly); but in any case, they are no longer together, and Mason lives at a great enough distance that he can only see his children every so often.

When Samantha is eight and Mason, Jr. is six or seven, Olivia decides she wants to improve her life and the lives of her children by going back to college.  A laudable choice, but also the beginning of a process that requires the family relocate frequently.  To make things more difficult, mom remarries at least twice — in both instances to men with a penchant for alcohol, and in one instance into a physically and psychologically abusive relationship.

Like I said, we have a pretty mixed bag — and one that seems to reflect the general, overall state of the family in today’s society.

Patricia_Arquette_Boyhood2

Additionally, as kindhearted and as devoted as both parents are, they have no truly profound or comprehensive worldview to offer their children.  This is not unusual nowadays, and by no means am I suggesting that it leads in every case to family breakdown and dysfunction; however, I am convinced that the condition of this particular family would not have come about without this particular deficit.

A  key point — as far as I’m concerned — comes near the end of the film, when Mason, Jr. finds his mother crying at the kitchen table.  Olivia notes a sudden realization that her life has been a mere series of benchmarks.  She has kids.  She gets married.  She gets divorced.  She gets married again.  She graduates college.  She finally gets the job she wants.  Her kids graduate high school…

…a series of incidents, with nothing to connect them all.

“I guess I just thought there would be more,” she observes.

Sound familiar?  It would seem that the aforementioned confusion about life is inter-generational and, in a sense, hereditary.

Having identified the existential angst of both generations, I will explore two particular aspects of it in depth in the next two posts.

Images obtained through a Google image search

Saint_Augustine_and_Saint_Monica

Today, we observe the Memorial of St. Monica.  If you doubt in any way that suffering can produce sanctity, consider what you know about her.

And if you don’t know anything about her, kindly lend me your ears (well, eyes technically).

Some of you may already know that Monica was the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the Catholic Church’s holiest known saints and among the most influential figures of Church history.  But looking at his early life, you wouldn’t know it.

Let me say that again: You wouldn’t know it.

As a mother, St. Monica lived in a troubled home.  Among the crosses she had to bear were:

  1. A wild and defiant son who abused alcohol and consorted with prostitutes;
  2. A physically and verbally abusive husband; and
  3. An unpleasant mother-in-law

Clearly, she did not have an easy go of things.  But make no mistake — she never gave up her faith.  She remained firm in her commitment to God and to her faith.  She responded to her husband’s early abusiveness with kindness and humble obedience — not out of weakness, nor for the purpose of remaining a “doormat;” rather, she knew that this was the very best way she could bear loving witness to the Truth, to the humble Savior who is none other than Christ Himself.

Eventually, she did succeed in converting her husband (who was a pagan when she married him).

And then there was the matter of her son.  During Augustine’s troubled years, Monica prayed for him fervently and constantly, shedding profuse tears in the process.  Once, when she spoke to a bishop about her concerns, he famously remarked thus:

“…the child of those tears shall never perish.”

Saint_Augustine_by_Philippe_de_Champaigne

And he didn’t.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

For any wives and/or mothers reading this post: I would strongly encourage you to foster a devotion to St. Monica — especially if you are worried about your husband or children for any reason.  Here is a traditional prayer you could use, if you find it helpful:

Exemplary Mother of the Great Augustine,

You perseveringly pursued your wayward son

Not with threats but with prayerful cries to heaven.

Intercede for all mothers in our day

So that they may learn to draw their children to God.

Teach them how to remain close to their children,

Even the prodigal sons and daughters who have sadly gone astray.

Dear St Monica, troubled wife and mother,

many sorrows pierced your heart during your lifetime.

Yet, you never despaired or lost faith.

With confidence, persistence, and profound faith,

you prayed daily for the conversion

of your beloved husband, Patricius,

and your beloved son, Augustine;

your prayers were answered.

Grant me that same fortitude, patience,

and trust in the Lord.

Intercede for me, dear St Monica,

that God may favorably hear my plea.
(mention your intention here)

Grant me the grace to accept His Will in all things,

through Jesus Christ, our Lord,

in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, forever and ever.

Amen

- Text from http://www.family-prayer.org/saint-monica.htm

 

Images from Wikipedia

 

Boyhood_filmRichard Linklater’s latest film strikes me as a truly groundbreaking work of cinema.  Never before have we seen a film that traces the life of its protagonist from age six through age 18, using the same actor for each age.  Yet this is precisely what “Boyhood” does.

The protagonist in question is Mason Evans, Jr., brilliantly portrayed at every age level by Ellar Coltrane.  In Mason’s experiences and relationships, we can see a microcosm of what appears to be the experience of the youth of this culture and time in general…

…which is not to say that this is a “doom-and-gloom” type of movie.  It’s a good mix of happy and sad, thick and thin, light and dark.  It showcases the happy moments of family life and childhood without being overly sentimental, and it depicts the harder aspects of growing up in this day and age without being fatalistic or depressing.

Boyhood-03Within that context, we see a growing sense of confusion, uncertainty, and lost-ness in Mason as he gets closer to college age.  His passion for photography, demonstrated beautifully throughout the later part of the film, starts to wane as he searches — seemingly in vain — for deeper, more solid, more abiding meaning in his life.

Normally, this would probably not make for a hit movie.  Such a subject is more often confined to a limited-release indie film circulated among specialized audiences. 

But what makes “Boyhood” different is its seamless integration of the formative periods of the protagonist’s life using the same actor — rather than, for example, Ellar Coltrane playing Mason at age six, Seamus Davey-Fitzpatrick at age 10, Asa Butterfield at age 14, and Josh Hutcherson at age 18.  For this reason, we have a much clearer sense of Mason Evans, Jr. as a single person on a single journey.  So we can both see and better appreciate the context from which his personality and concerns have emerged.

I hate to end this post here…but I’m looking at the emerging structure of my reflections as a whole, and it appears I’ll have to.  Stay tuned!

Movie poster image from Wikipedia; movie still obtained through a Google image search

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