tom thinks

date 2001-02-04:18:24
Movies What Lies Beneath is a fairly effective recap of Alfred Hitchock's genius, that only really fails at the end. Michelle Pfieffer is extremely good in her portrayal of a woman who finds herself something of a misfit in a world where old certainties are suddenly cast adrift. Harrison Ford is quite a bit less acomplished in his portrayal of her husband.

One thing the film made me think was, "Where are all the male actors?" The contast between Pfeifer and Ford, and younger, more capable woman cast against and older, less capable man, reminded me strongly of the similar contrast between Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson in What Women Want. I canvas my mind for capable male actors. There are a few. Kevin Spacey. Derek Jacoby. Patrick Stewart, when he's given the opportunity. Keneth Branah, so long as he doesn't try anything too marshal. There are probably others I'm forgetting, but none of them are stars with nearly so big a name as Ford or Gibson.

Given that we live in a society that is powerfully opposed to any form of emotional expression from men, where male violence and "toughness" is routinely glorifed in the media, particularly in the sports world, I guess it isn't surprising that there aren't so many men around with the capacity for finely nuanced emotional expression, and the ones who are aren't valued nearly so much as the tough guys like Gibson and Ford. Jack Nicholson has considerable emotional range, but it's significant that he mostly gets to play men who are really screwed up, because after all, it's only men who are really screwed up who express emotions, right? Decent, God-fearing men keep their feelings sealed up tight.

The other thing the film made me think was how much we have lose in getting uptight about questions like, "Are ghosts real?" In a literal sense, I do not believe that the spirits of the dead have the capacity to turn on water taps, write on mirrors or anything like it. But that's not the issue.

A few weeks after my father died, I was standing in the kitchen, looking out the window over the back yard. The kids were playing downstairs, and I could hear their conversation filtering up the stairwell. Lego is their favorite passtime, and they've built a complex imaginary world full of heros and evil bad-guys with its own history and myths and legends. Jan was working in her office upstairs. But I suddenly became aware of a fifth absense, another person who was not in the room with me. I felt my father's ghost pass by.

I think this is what people mean when they say they've seen a ghost; that they've experienced something like this. They are suddenly aware at some deep level that this person who has been part of their world for their entire life is no longer there. I see no reason not to call this phenomenon a ghost, and say on that basis that ghosts exists, that when we ask the question, "To what in reality do ghosts refer?" we can point to this kind of experience in answer.

Psychological phenomena are, of course, real. They exist. And this is a psychological phenomenon. It would be a mistake to externalize it, to impute it to things outside of the person who experiences it. To do so would be a gross violation of parsimony, for a start.

It would be interesting to see a film or story that developed along these lines, acknowledging the power of the subconsious and the acuity of intuition, that accepts the reality of these things without at the same time being dismissive of them. A skeptic would tell you that because what I experienced was psychological in origin, it was somehow less signficant than if my father's spirit were, independent of my memories of him, walking through my kitchen. I don't see this at all--I have very little control over my subconsious, so from my conscious point of view it's almost as if there is an independent being there, and its an independent being that is capable of having a somatic effect on me, just like ghosts are supposed to. Sure, it can't turn doorknobs, but it can make my pulse increase, which is spooky enough to count as ghostly in my book.
Play Swimming with the kids today was marvelous. Alex swam the whole length of the pool and back on his own, with no flotation aids! This is a big first, and the look of confidence and determination on his face as he set out to do it was something I'll treasure forever.

Both kids, like me, have really sensitive eyes--I remember hating swimming when I was their age because the chlorine hurt so much. Neither of them likes putting their faces in the water, and I can well understand why: after two or three times their eyes are red-rimmed and obviously irritated.

Still, they both love swimming, and I find that spending time in the local community pool with them every week does far more for them than the lessons they've had. The niceties of strokes they can laern fairly easily--the important and difficult thing to learn is how to be confident and comfortable in the water. I'm always faintly amazed to learn that their are adults who don't know how to swim; to me, it's a basic skill, like walking or riding a bike.

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