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Posts Tagged ‘Thomas Aquinas’

Sometimes we have to go back in order to go forward.

With that in mind, let’s look at a couple of classic, practical concepts that could help turn the tide toward progress in relating to people with autism spectrum disorders (ASDs). (more…)

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Birdman (poster)“Birdman poster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Birdman_poster.jpg#/media/File:Birdman_poster.jpg

Catapulted to stardom by a Batman and then killed by a snowman, Michael Keaton makes a comeback in Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s “Birdman, Or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).”

Michael Keaton as “Riggan” in BIRDMAN. Photo by Alison Rosa. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox.

Michael Keaton as “Riggan” in BIRDMAN. Photo by Alison Rosa. Copyright © 2014 Twentieth Century Fox.

Keaton plays Riggan Thomson, a washed-out Hollywood has-been once known for the title role in the blockbuster “Birdman” superhero franchise.  Now, years later, he has come to Broadway to write, direct, and star in “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” based on a short story of the same name by Raymond Carver.

His reason?  After years of being known for candy and bubble gum spectacle, he wants to do something that truly matters.

The average person might think Riggan insane.  He is gambling everything he has on this risky project, and this in spite of the fact that he was — and still is — widely admired for his “Birdman” fame.

Riggan RunningBut at this point in his life, he has come to understand the superficiality of worldly greatness, and that what people love in him is an image rather than a person.  His aversion to this reminded me of something Thomas Merton, the great twentieth-century spiritual writer, wrote in his autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain:

The logic of worldly success rests on a fallacy: the strange error that our perfection depends on the thoughts and opinions and applause of other men!  A weird life it is, indeed, to be living always in somebody else’s imagination, as if that were the only place in which one could at last become real! (pg. 323)

michael keaton - ed nortonThe staging of Carver’s story (a deeply personal project) gives us insight into Riggan’s interest in true admirability, itself evidence of a deeper desire for admiration.  This is mirrored in the character he portrays — who, upon finding his wife in bed with another man and hearing from her own lips that she no longer loves him, solemnly declares: “I don’t exist.”

We might be tempted to see the object of Merton’s critique in this, and perhaps we are correct to some degree.  But whatever the case, we are closer to the truth of things here, because we are within the realm of personal relationship as opposed to fame and stardom.

St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of a particular effect of love called “mutual indwelling,” which basically means that the lover in a certain sense enters into and becomes part of the beloved, and vice versa.  There are various ways in which this happens, but I want to focus on one particular comment St. Thomas offers:

[M]utual indwelling (. . .) can [also] be understood in regard to reciprocal love: inasmuch as friends return love for love (…)

(Summa Theologiae I-II, 28, 2, quoted in Peter Kreeft’s “Summa of the Summa”)

Given that human beings are made for this kind of fellowship (in its various forms), I think this helps explain why unrequited affection of any kind can hurt so much: It’s almost like a deficit of being.

keaton-stoneAnd we do see this deficit in Riggan, whose manic pursuit of success over the years has led to a divorce and to estrangement from his daughter, Sam (Emma Stone).

emma stone - birdmanNor does Sam offer him any comfort in this regard.  In fact, she has this to say:

You’re doing this [play] because you’re scared to death, like the rest of us, that you don’t matter. And you know what? You’re right. You don’t. It’s not important. You’re not important. Get used to it.

Benefit of the doubt my friends, benefit of the doubt: Let’s not assume in knee-jerk fashion that Riggan is looking for an ego massage — at least, not deep down.  Genuine affirmation is simply about the assurance that one does somehow matter, and that s/he has a contribution to offer that is of value.  So if we pursue love (under the banner of which fall affirmation and admiration, in the proper sense of each term) with a sincere heart, we will sooner or later be led to something that points beyond ourselves.

And that’s what we will cover in part 2.  Stay tuned.

Movie poster from Wikipedia; remaining stills obtained through a Google image search

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For parts one and two, click here

“Beware the frozen heart.”  That’s the warning of the singing icemen in the opening scene of “Frozen.”  We take that as the theme of this third installment of our analysis.

frozen_trollWe turn to the unlikely “love experts” in the iceman Kristoff’s (Jonathan Groff) social circle: The Trolls.

We meet them at the very beginning, when Anna (at this point a young child) is taken to them for healing after Elsa, with her magical powers, accidentally paralyzes her.  And then we cross paths with them yet again after Elsa (Idina Menzel) accidentally freezes Anna’s (Kristen Bell) heart when the latter tries to get her to return to Arendelle.

Grandpa Troll (Ciarán Hinds) declares that a frozen heart can only be cured by an act of true love.  And if it doesn’t happen soon, Anna will be frozen forever.

anna saves elsaUnexpectedly, it is Anna who saves Elsa by an act of true love.  Prince Hans approaches Elsa on the ice, sword in hand, ready to execute her for the murder of her sister — a verdict that he himself has passed falsely.

Fortunately for her, Anna is on the scene.  She jumps in the way just as the clock runs out; she freezes into an ice statue, blocking Hans’ blow.

Elsa weeps for her sister’s apparent demise; but right on the tail of her tears comes a miracle: Anna “thaws out” and reawakens, her frozen heart fully cured.

The act of true love that saves Anna ends up being her own.

frozen-happy-endingOf course, she saves Elsa as well — and not just from Hans’ blow.  She shows her that true love is, in fact, the elusive key to keeping her powers in check — a key Elsa has longed for her whole life, but has never been able to find.

So now we must explore the $1,000,000 question: What is this “true love” of which Grandpa Troll speaks?

As mentioned in the prelude to this series of posts, love is to will the good of the other as other — to give of oneself for the life, for the happiness, for the good of a brother, a sister, a friend, or anyone.

For human beings made in the image of the Triune God, for whom it is not good to be alone (Gen. 2: 18), love also entails a certain vulnerability to the other.  In other words, the belovéd open themselves up to one another, in some sense becoming part of one another (in the natural sphere this reaches its height in true romantic love, but all forms of love are characterized by this to varying degrees and in different ways).

St. Thomas AquinasOne of history’s greatest commentators on the virtue of love (if not the greatest) was St. Thomas Aquinas.  Writing in the 13th century, he identified four particular effects of love, one of which is relevant to our analysis — namely, the effect of melting

…which is opposed to freezing.  For things that are frozen are … hard to pierce.  (. . .) Consequently the freezing or hardening of the heart is a disposition incompatible with love: while melting denotes a softening of the heart, whereby the heart shows itself to be ready for the entrance of the beloved.

(Summa Theologiae I-II, 28, 5, quoted in Peter Kreeft’s “Summa of the Summa”; bold added)

HansBetrayelAnna makes a shrewd observation at the end of the film when addressing Hans: “The only one around here with a frozen heart is you.”

Indeed, the physical aspects of frozenness (terrible as they are) pale in comparison to the sickness of a truly frozen heart — a heart focused on its own interests and ambitions, closed to the needs and desires of others.  Anna submits herself to the former (at least in a sense — she could have focused on seeking help for herself instead of putting her energy into saving Elsa) in response to the promptings of her “melting heart,” and through this submission even her apparent death by frozenness brings about salvation.

I have a little bit more to say, and then I’m done.  Thanks for reading.

Image of St. Thomas Aquinas from Wikipedia; movie stills obtained through a Google image search

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