Not feeling in top form yesterday after a minor accident and visit to a doctor, followed by a look at the news with its economic and political horrors, I needed to relax with an uplifting movie. Instead, we opened our cheerful red envelope from Netflix and watched Mike Leigh's Another Year.
I guess it sounded promising when we ordered it, and it was well acted and intelligently conceived. But this close-up of a group of Londoners, most of them in despair over their lives, is almost unendurable, especially the non-stop talk of Mary (Leslie Manville), a lush who visits the main characters, played by Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen, who have more patience with such people than I would have. And Ruth, playing a mental health counselor, should know how to deal with friends like Mary instead of pouring more drinks for them.
She could also tell Leigh that his film should be edited--unless you like to watch four seasons pass with nothing but talk, all going nowhere, with little to uplift the spirit. He seems to want to give us portraits of suffering souls, as if channeling the Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" ("Ah, look at all the lonely people") and applying it to contemporary British life, with its many disappointments, especially to the late middle-aged failures.
Here everyone is unhappy in his or her own way. Soon, one of the characters says, we will be history, part of the past. Death is the inevitable end, and we must endure day by day.
I wish one of the clever English screen adapters like Andrew Davies would adapt one of David Lodge's novels. I've just finished "Therapy," his whimsical study of a middle-aged man in search of fulfillment; it would make a great movie. It would help us laugh at ourselves instead of reach for another drink.
I know that my life is circumscribed by problems, most of them beyond my control, but I make an effort to make each day, however hum-drum it may be, unique and special. Today, I enjoyed seeing the smiles of the clerks at the local supermarket, many of whom recognize me, one of whom tells me jokes (even though she is crippled and has a lot to complain about but never does).
I enjoyed the music I heard during my lunch, enjoyed watching the cat do nothing with her usual grace and with rapt attention to every sound.
Watching her is invariably amusing and can be one of the little things I do to make a quiet day spent at home recuperating filled with moments I can enjoy and be grateful for. I don't know how many more days I will have on earth, but I am determined to make each one mindful and rich and worth living.
I can choose this prayerful approach, or I can be pulled down by my problems and by the state of the economy, by the injustice of the world. I can also choose my evening's entertainment more carefully.
Yet even Mike Leigh's movie may not have been a disastrous choice after all; it has prompted a few thoughts about happiness and why our lives are often so bereft of meaning. And it has given me something to write about, stimulating my brain and perhaps prompting a thought or two in one of my readers. (I remain surprised, and grateful, to learn how many there are!)