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What Would People Think?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Updates From South Carolina

I'm attending a 2 week long trial training session in sunny South Carolina. I've been taking part in a really intensive trial practice course. Feels like I'm back in law school - work every night 'till I fall asleep. Only this time I gotta perform on my feet a lot more - doing stuff like opening statements and closing arguments, cross and direct examination, introducing exhibits, making objections...and wrapping it up with a full mock trial. So, yeah, it's pretty interesting stuff.

Meanwhile, here's what else is going on in my life:

1. Christy's sick

It's really weird and kinda scary. It started with chest pains and now it's moved across her shoulders and neck. It's actually a really crappy time for me to be away at training. Her mom flew in to take care of her this weekend, but it's still scary not knowing what's going on. We've been to the doctor and the ER, ruled out various heart troubles. But we still don't know what's causing it, and prescription painkillers have only be reducing, not eliminating the pain. Yesterday she had, like, her 4th doctor visit. And she'll be seeing a specialist of some sort next week. But not knowing and not being able to do much to stop my wife's pain is scary as hell.

On the plus side, it's been wonderful to have family and friends be really supportive of us. Folks at church have taken the time to pray for her and e-mail to ask how she's doing. It means a whole lot to know others are thinking of us.

2. I voted Obama

It's kind of nice that my vote in the Democratic primary is in a state that makes a difference. Georgia's one of the many Super Tuesday states, and I sent in my absentee ballot last week. (Since I'll still be in Columbia on Feb. 5.)

For the time being, I can't imagine voting Republican because of (a) Iraq and (b) the potentially apocalyptic danger of global warming. (Although it comforted me to hear John McCain recently argue in favor of taking action on global warming.) I like to think that one day I won't be a partisan...that I'll be able to consider voting Republican. I mean, I am pro-life, for instance. But for now....let's just say I'm no swing voter.

That said, it was really tough choosing who to vote for in the Democratic primary. After spending hours reading the policy differences between Obama, Clinton, and Edwards (who was still running at the time) and cursing that Biden and Richardson dropped out of the race, I was no closer to a decision. I swear, these people practically plagiarized from each other on Iraq, health care, global warming, and all the issues that mean much to me. Being forced to choose, I finally went with Obama for 2 reasons. 1) Compared to Clinton, he seemed to have a better emphasis on addressing poverty, with ideas like indexing the minimum wage to inflation and expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit. Clinton doesn't even have a section of her website devoted to addressing poverty. (Not that I don't think she would, but still, how you present yourself says a lot about your passions.) 2) My second reason is pure political calculation. Given the unpopularity of the current president and the fact that no Republican candidate has really captured the hearts of the Right, Republicans are disorganized and dispirited. Democrats are energized and hopeful. The only thing that might bring Republicans out voting in droves is to keep out a candidate they really hate......and for reasons that are entirely unfair, that candidate is Hillary Clinton. Also, I kind of like how Obama often cites one of my favorite theologians, Reinhold Niebuhr.

Now that it's Super Tuesday, we'll see how it all turns out.

Oh, as in 2000, I forgot that Super Tuesday is also Mardi Gras. So happy Mardi Gras. I expect to see everybody with ashes tomorrow! (Not that I've ever done that myself.)

3. Saw No Country For Old Men

I saw this in Columbia last Saturday. I also rented Eastern Promises. A couple of violent movies, let me tell ya. [Spoilers.]

No Country certainly was fascinating. I found myself identifying with Anton Chigurh's many victims. Especially Carla Jean. She knew she was going to die, so she called him on his posturing bullshit. Chigurh pretends that he's some sort of agent of fate....in fact, I'm pretty sure that the Coen Brothers and Cormac McCarthy intend to portray him as such. I don't buy it. He DOES have a choice, dammit! Just like Moss had a choice whether to steal that money. Sure, the movie is dedicated to the idea that things are out of our control, that random chance plays a major role in our fates, that no good deed goes unpunished (note how one of Chigurh's most common victims is a good Samaritan....note how, before the appearance of the tracking device, it seems that Moss's compassion for the thirsty Mexican is the only thing that led to him being tracked by killers). But you know what, even within the limitations of that system, people are still free agents. Moss chose to take the money and not to return it. Chigurh freely chooses every murder he commits - and he shouldn't be allowed to hide behind a coin or "his word" to not take moral responsibility for what he does (for whatever it's worth).

Didn't see Moss's death coming. I mean, I figured he was a dead man from the beginning of the movie, but after he held his own against the unstoppable Chigurh, I figured we would at least observe his death....and that it would be at the hands of someone like Chigurh, instead of the Mexicans. Interesting how, late in the movie, the plot just discards the MacGuffin and focuses on the choices and inadequacies of the characters.

Anyways, I had more thoughts, but I should be getting ready for a day of mock trial prep.

By the way, don't take the fact that I talk more about my vote and a movie than about Christy as any sign of my relative priorities. It's just a lot easier to pontificate about movies and politics than about my wife's pain.

7 Comments:

  • [***More Spoilers***]

    Was Chigurh in the hotel room when Bell enters or was it just his imagination? Did Chigurh actually kill Carla Jean (okay, we all pretty much know he did, but we never actually see it happen - what were the Coen brothers' reasons for leaving it ambiguous?) What did you think of Bell's dreams at the end? Was it not the perfect ending? Dammit, I wanna discuss this with you.

    Incidentally, I don't think the movie pretends we don't have choices, but rather examines the interplay between our choices and our fate. Consider: had Chigurh not chosen to pursue Carla Jean after she buried her mother, there would have been no car accident. Had Moss not chosen to bring that Mexican some water, or had he done it sooner, none of this would have happened? So is it fate or is it choice? The answer, of course, is yes.

    Oh, and much like a 500-year-old British knight addressing Harrison Ford, I must say: "You chose...wisely."

    By Blogger Mike, at 2/05/2008 10:37 AM  

  • 1. Good vote.
    2. Good movie.
    3. Bad pain. Hope she feels better.

    By Blogger Barzelay, at 2/05/2008 3:15 PM  

  • Tell Christy I'm thinking of her...

    By Blogger Jeff, at 2/07/2008 11:30 AM  

  • I don't think you can divorce Chigurh from the idea of fate without weakening the movie considerably. Outside of his symbolism as the inexorable hand of fate (with Grecian overtones, no less - oh, Moss, what pride led you to think that you could steal millions of dollars from a drug deal and escape its consequences?) and (in my opinion) the inherent darkness in humanity, Chigurh is just a savvy contract killer. If you only look at him on that level, the movie is just an empty thriller. With plot holes, no less (why would Chigurh even go to the trouble of killing Moss's wife?).

    Best wishes for Christy.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 2/08/2008 5:48 PM  

  • I'm not saying Chigurh has nothing to do with fate. But I don't think either he or the movie are just about fate. If anything, the movie is about the interplay of fate and human choice.

    Moss and Bell engage in a bit of vanity. Moss, as you said, thinks he can somehow outwit absolutely everybody else in the movie...and it eventually catches up with him. Bell hopes to save everybody, and in the end makes no difference whatsoever in the fates of everybody else.

    Fate/random chance play a huge role...no where portrayed more clearly than Chigurh's coin toss and Moss's anti-climactic off-screen death.

    But let's be clear here...elements of free human choice and moral responsibility for those choices are still present. Moss CHOSE to take that money. And, yes, Chigurh chose to murder all those people. I'm not so much divorcing him from the idea of fate as marrying that fate metaphor to the idea of free choice. (How's that for a tortured extended metaphor?)

    And Chigurh still pisses me off. I hate him. I hate that he kills good Samaritans. I hate that he is such a corrupting influence that he turns a kid who would give him the shirt off his back into a greedy money-grubber just like that. And I hate that he seems to think that the coin is making the decision for him...or the person making the call. If I were Carla Jean, I would have done exactly the same thing. I would've refused to play Chigurh's game. I would have died, but it would have been my choice. (Face it, she's going to die anyway at that point. It's the defiant way she faces that death - sort of reminiscent of Moss - that remains with me.)

    By Blogger Ben, at 2/11/2008 4:22 PM  

  • I guess what I'm saying is that I look at the fate issue as a separate layer. Sure, on its face, the movie is about a man attempting to escape from a horrible contract killer, who is almost playful in his cruelty (e.g., the coin, killing the wife just cause he said he would, etc.). But how satisfying is that perspective? It's pretty black and white, and I don't find much to learn from it.

    On another layer, if you look at Chigurh as an instrument of fate, then Moss is paying the price for his pride and his confidence, and, as it usually goes with classic fatalism, the innocents around him suffer for his sins. But not, interestingly, innocents NOT connected to him. Chigurh does not kill the sassy trailer lady, nor does he kill the gas station owner or the man standing next to him when he murders the man who hired him. They did not anger fate, nor were they standing between fate and its target. (If Chigurh is an instrument of fate, and I haven't thought this through, I'm just riffing now, then the coin is not random chance but fate itself. So it's not just luck that the gas station owner did not lose the coin toss, it was always predetermined. And similarly, if Moss's wife had agreed to the toss, she would certainly have lost it.)

    On still another layer, if you look at Chirgurh as representative of the evil in humanity, as the low roar of violence that has been the hallmark of all societies since civilization began, then Bell plays a larger role as the representative of humanity's attempt to quiet that roar. The movie is clear about what force wins in this scenario.

    I guess I don't really see how you see the marriage between fate and free choice. It seems to me that you're looking at Chigurh only through the prima facie plot of the movie, as a contract killer who rejects morality and chooses to kill wantonly. And of course from that perspective Chirugh is a horrible person and a man to be hated. But the movie is not really about that. And it's not just about Carla Jean standing up defiantly to a heartless killer. It's about the innocent bystander trying to reason with with the unknown but terrible forces that have converged to destroy her. It's about the Indonesian staring up at the tsunami wave or the Iraqi child seeing the errant bomb heading his way, and asking "why?" And Fate responding that this is just the way it goes.

    By Blogger Zhubin, at 2/12/2008 5:10 PM  

  • I guess I was just far more interested in how people responded to this representation of evil/fate. Some run, some cower, some defy. Most die, but that didn't even feel like the point to me. I was wondering how I would respond in this situation.

    What really interested me in the movie was people's choices - even in a system constricted by fate and random chance and human brutality, people have choices to make. And, even in a system where we feel as helpless as Ed Tom Bell, our choices do have consequences. Just not always the consequences we can predict.

    What also intrigued me about Chigurh was the fact that he isn't entirely unstoppable. He's horribly injured twice. And, although he proves to be a remarkably good self-surgeon, you gotta figure one day fate'll catch up to him, too.

    By Blogger Ben, at 2/12/2008 10:26 PM  

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