Gooden's Hi-Lo Double Feature
What to do while watching: Be dumbfounded. Try to remember that people are good. Draw parallels to the state of the world today.
What to eat while watching: Macaroni and cheese. Mashed potatoes. Jam and toast. You know, comfort foods.
What to do while watching: Assemble IKEA furniture in a different room.
What to eat while watching: Go out for some frozen yogurt. No need to press PAUSE.
Comparison/contrast essays, a staple of college-course tests and theses, are set up to inspire grounds for discussion. Compare and contrast themes of insanity in Mrs. Dalloway and The Sound and The Fury. Evaluate the different treatments of war in Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now. How does Shakespeare's titular king change from Henry IV and Henry V? Subjects for comparison are close enough to have some common ground. But this week, I have conjured in my mind a sadistic composition professor who, with an unholy sneer, assigns, "Compare The Pianist, a film about a Polish piano player who hides from the Nazis in the ruined Warsaw ghetto, with Old School, a film about three middle-aged guys that start a fraternity and cause shenanigans."
Groaning, I leave the lecture hall, knowing full well that I will need to call on all my creativity to come with a trick, some rhetorical gimcrack, that will be able to mix these two movies into a single essay. But no matter what I come up with Professor Sneer is bound to be a tough grader.
I saw Old School first, and I blame this on faulty memory. I remembered someone saying it was funny. Or maybe it was because I knew that Artie Lang, a likeable Howard Stern sidekick is in the film. Little did I know that he has but one line. I also had no way of knowing that the story is as far-fetched as my fictional college assignment.
In a nutshell, Old School depicts Luke Wilson's character, call him Al, a thirty-something guy stuck in a dead-end job. When he catches his girlfriend cheating on him with at least three people, he moves into a house that happens to be right next to a college campus. Al's friend, Vince Vaughn's character, call him Burt, throws a big party for Al that brings hundreds of college hotties and Snoop Doggy Dog. It also unleashes Will Ferrell's character, Frank, who parallels John Belushi's Blutarsky but with a sensitive streak.
The manipulative, purely despicable dean decides to drive Al away from the house, claiming that it belongs to the University. So Burt decides to start a fraternity in the house so that they will have a legal claim on it and won't be evict-able. In the reality of the film, their fraternity doesn't actually have to have students in it. It can have anybody. And they don't have to actually do anything. In fact, they are committed to doing no social service, but just having a good time.
Thus do wild times unfold in the house of Al, wrestling matches in KY Jelly, for instance, not a savory visual no matter what the imagination conjures. Shenanigans increase, and in the end Al gets some girl to like him, and grows up into a more responsible adult. The plot is entirely throwaway, a skeleton upon which to hang jokes. But most of the jokes seem familiar if you've seen Animal House, and they're overshadowed by that movie, as well. There are some chuckles to be had if you chuckle easily, but for the most part, Old School is nothing like The Pianist, a much better film about something completely different.
The Pianist is set in Poland during the German invasion and occupation. Academy-Award-winning Adrien Brody plays Wladyslaw Szpilman, the titular musician. (Minus 5 points for using the word "titular" twice in one essay.) The film does a good job of capturing the slow descent of the Polish Jews into despair along with harsher and harsher living conditions. Flickers of hope and resistance are quelled beneath the merciless, robotic advancement of the occupying forces until Warsaw becomes a prison to its residents and eventually, a ruin.
Heart-wrenching scenes of separation, humiliation, physical agony, starvation and hunger, deprivation, hate, and war make this a very powerful fill emotionally. It's impossible to watch it and not be moved. At the same time, Roman Polanski's excellent filmmaking makes it hard to turn away.
By knowing the right people and by his status as a renowned piano player--and with a whole lot of luck--Wladyslaw manages to avoid capture and death and winds up living in the ruined city of Warsaw. Though his existence is naught but the meanest survival, his grip on life compels the viewer to stay with the story. Each time he is threatened with capture, we feel his own inner survival instinct overtake us as we hope for him to come through.
Another badge of honor goes to this film for portraying a kind-hearted Nazi soldier. For most of the film, the Nazis fill their role as entirely monstrous creatures, but this perspective ignores the fact that even Nazis are human beings. By having one Nazi soldier appear to have a heart, we are reminded of the spiritual teaching that we cannot ignore the humanity of our enemies.
Many parallels to current world situation are present, from depictions of people leaping out of tall buildings as Warsaw is attacked, to the notion expressed above. Even our enemies in the terrorist organizations of the world are human beings. It's too bad because all humans need to be treated as such, but it doesn't behoove Bush's global agendas to do anything but label them as evil with dehumanizing finality. The extremely difficult work of peace does not have to be practiced or even broached, and the conqueror administration can plunder on. Bush's ideal enemy would be Sauron, the demon from The Lord of the Rings. He could condemn Sauron for being totally in favor of destruction, and he would be correct.
In sum, The Pianist is a gripping film, based on a true story, but in its specifics, it's terribly hard on the nerves to watch. Don't go into it unprepared.