Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Way That's Harsh And Fruitful: A Review Of "When The Game Stands Tall" ★★★★

Ever played on a competitive sports team? How about a high school club? Does it seem that there's a cycle to high school sports? There's the phase when the training, the pressure, the strain is all about the win, the record, the ring. Then follows the phase where suddenly these old ambitions are reduced to their true value, and all the energy becomes an investment not only into athletic excellence but into personal substantiation. When the Game Stands Tall is a movie keenly dedicated to this cyclical tension - a linebacker about to rock you over as the story, based on real accounts, intertwines the ever-powerful metaphor of high school football with the very literal angst of life. Don't get caught flat-footed!

The movie, directed by Thomas Carter, follows now acclaimed coach Bob Ladouceur (Jim Caviezel) as he tries to navigate through one of the most pivotal years in the life of the De La Salle High School football program, the Spartans. The team has just come off a climactic year, recording their famous 151st consecutive win ("the Streak" stretching about over a decade), further establishing the team's image as one of sheer athletic dominance, or at least so far. Few know, however, that behind the remarkably unparalleled success of De La Salle is a coach who teaches humility, honesty and integrity on and off the field, often referring to the words found in the Gospels. He teaches his team - his students - that more important than winning is having a winning character. Yet, the young team, of juniors and seniors alike, struggles with the concept of humility and meekness. Referring to Luke's Gospel, Coach Bob exhorts that if you "give, then it shall be added unto you." But does that make sense? Why is it then that a kid, who does his best to help others, is losing his mom to cancer? Where is the reward in that kind of lost situation? Perhaps the proper way to live in this unjust life is to take what you need and leave the other guys to fend for themselves.
     This is a team caught in a teeter-tottering struggle to find their grace when it's tremendously easy to get muddled in the hype of "The Streak" and the glory of a winning season. Chris Ryan (Alexander Ludwig), the star player for the Spartans, is on the verge of scoring the team's touchdown record in his final season as a Spartan. It's his season. His moment. His time to shine. After all, doesn't he deserves it? Bob Ladouceur, for all his idealistic fervor and honorable character, has his own demons to take care of. His success as probably the greatest high school football coach around has prompted a multitude of lucrative job offers from colleges. But not only do these Big Time offers provide a temptation for him, Bob struggles to distinguish between his role as a coach and as a father, if the distinction can or should even be made. Questions, all around, blitz our De La Salle squad to the point where the beleaguered youth must decide a way forward where moral compromise is as likely, even more so, than statistical downfall. All of this on the eve of their greatest and most physically demanding challenge to date: a scheduled game with a big, brash and fast team that is every bit an equal for De La Salle.
     The theme of pride and humility is firmly planted in the soil, but as the team's struggles begin to unravel before the start of the season, pain and loss are clearly focal to the younger story developments and the team's winning pedigree hardly seems relevant. Loved ones of athletes dying bedside with only waning time to delay the imminent. An athlete whole and sincere, beloved among family, cherished among friends, unjustly murdered during the night. A coach, who tries to teach who he can a dependable moral code to live by, suffers from a heart attack. All of this and on the edge of a decisive season for many. Why do such terrible things happen to such good intending people? Has God cursed them? Is this all because they were bad people? What did they do to deserve this? The answers to the early questions are not clearly answered. How could they be? Bob Ladouceur, who recovered swiftly from his heart attack incident, after all was able to return to coaching only to find a group of kids who were divided between those for a persevering effort and those for a persevering "Streak". When the team loses its first two games of the season, bitter reality hits that they are not a team built for perfect performance. The ultimate question the team must face, before total disaster looms, is what are they built for?
The Verdict
     When the Game Stands Tall deals with reality at it's most essential in a way that's realistic, comprehensible and completely accessible. Most people know what sports pressure is like. Everyone knows what life pressure is like. This inspiring movie is both true and compelling, escaping ostentatious writing but hardly avoiding all the necessary clichés of a High School football movie: the packed stadium cheering and jeering, the school band playing, the cheerleaders, the hotheaded parent in the crowd, the pregame huddle, the near-catastrophic injury, the close call and the anxiety of the final down to bring home the marbles. But we can forgive the film its occasionally cheesy effects because it's a serious movie that doesn't take football too seriously. It's a movie that keeps sports in its proper place and places life in all its complexity and murkiness at center-field. It's a movie that accentuates the gain of victory and defeat, the reward of pleasure and anguish alike. It promotes a message of utter and complete selflessness and service that desperately needs to be transmitted in the sporting world. The idea is not to get more coaches to take their kids to PTS recovery facilities to teach about humility. The idea is to encourage more competitors to examine their motives and to take a deeper look into what matters in life.
     The film is well put together, surprisingly, sticking relentlessly to a realism without exaggeration or unnecessary distraction. The action is rugged, and I often found it difficult to decide what was more poignant, the sound of bodies smacking the ground or the sight of the mourning parents of a dead son. My only personal disliking of the film was that I find it hard to imagine my Jimmy Caviezel as a motivational football coach, but even then, he's certainly a great actor able to the task. There were also one or two loose ends left at the end but I hardly clued in since I was so satisfied with the rest of the film. I award the movie, When the Game Stands Tall, a proud 4 out of 5. Truly worth watching!                      

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

RE.: The Guardian's Dean Burnett On Robin Williams, Suicide

Death, as I'm positively certain every conscientious person knows, is a tragedy of tragedies, even if it passes over those we do not particularly admire, love or even respect. That's what makes it such a potent, natural phenomenon. We were reminded of this, very shockingly, when two days ago, beloved and acclaimed actor-comedian, Robin Williams, died at the age of 63, when he apparently claimed his own life. And so rises, once again, the sensitive and extremely combustible discussion on the reality of debilitating depression and its often terminal end, suicide.
     As fire meets fuel, so does ignorance meet social media, and the smoke leaves behind those who haven't done their research and demean victims to merely ideas and symbols. In the media fight for rightness on the moral and psychological nature of depression and suicide stands the Guardian newspaper's own, Dean Burnett. In response to certain comments that tend to be idly tossed about in public conversation, virtual or otherwise, he wrote an article in an attempt to dismantle the assertion that suicide is a selfish act. The link to the article is below:

The Guardian: Robin Williams' death: a reminder that suicide and depression are not selfish

The article posits the thesis that suicide is, essentially, not a selfish act and that if you hold this view, "... you’re wrong, or at the very least misinformed, and could be doing more harm in the long run." Before delving into his argument, he makes some clear points that I agree with wholeheartedly. Primarily, that there are those who are misinformed and do toss around criticism without having a clear understanding of the subject. There are those who capitalize on the opportunity to speak without first sympathizing. This type of voicing out is wrong. Having said this, however, I tend to disagree with the position of the writer on this topic and I don't think his arguments do very much to give serious weight to his argument and, moreover, there is a fundamental point that he misses.
     Burnett's first point, in support of his thesis, is that Depression is an illness. I agree with him completely on this and I think there are a lot of boneheads out there who have not thought this through. On this subject, people generally need to be more educated. Yes, there are the odd spurts of muddy experiences in life, but there is also the persistent indwelling, psychologically traumatic effects of depression which life-long enslaves individuals. It is a mental disease which is often hereditary and isn't so easily dissipated. I've never experienced depression, fortunately enough for me, but it doesn't take a rocket surgeon to know these things. You just have to know someone and see, though sometimes through facades. Or read Wikipedia.
     It's basically the same with Burnett's second point claiming that Depression doesn't discriminate, though he does side-track a bit with this one because instead of arguing that suicide is not necessarily selfish, he argues that suicide is an option for everyone. I agree with him, in both of the first two points, but, admittedly, I'm not entirely sure how this supports his argument.
     It's in Burnett's subsequent point, that Depression is not "logical", where his discourse really gets to the point, making a legitimate argument. However, this section of his article illustrates the point I'd like to make, and the one Dean Burnett missed from the beginning.
"If we’re being optimistic, it could be said that most of those describing suicide from depression as selfish are doing so from a position of ignorance. Perhaps they think that those with depression make some sort of table or chart with the pros and cons of suicide and, despite the pros being far more numerous, selfishly opt for suicide anyway?"
     Burnett quickly attacks the preposterity of such a notion, asserting that depressed individuals do not think "normally" as non-depressed individuals do. But, half a paragraph later, Burnett hypothesizes a sufferer's thought process for committing suicide.
"From the sufferers perspective, their self-worth may be so low, their outlook so bleak, that their families/friends/fans would be a lot better off without them in the world, ergo their suicide is actually intended as an act of generosity?"
     Dean, is this not a logical thought process? He admits that this is an assumption on the suicidal person's motives but justifies it with the opposing view's assumption of the selfish nature of suicide. So is this now a game of which assumption is right? Doesn't your argument make an assumption about the person's motives? Burnett continues to beef up his point by implying, in the end, that to one contemplating suicide, there is no "easy way out" and not too many other options apparent to them than "opting out", the term being used in some countries now to replace "suicide". Does this mean that the person pondering suicide hasn't actively sought out other options? Or does it mean that they have and none have presented themselves to the point where suicide is the evidently best option? In either case, is the final decision to end life not also an act of "giving up" on the search for other options? And if there no other options "apparent", is that because of the individual's refusal to see, refusal to search, refusal to cooperate, refusal to take the leap of faith? How often are the other options truly invisible? Is not, then, still the individual's suicide solely their responsibility, however misled?
     The last point of this article that accusations of selfishness are, themselves, selfish, makes some clever points but is hardly on topic. The string of interrogatory questions suggest an underlying selfish desire in anyone publicly criticizing the deceased. The problem here is that only a certain percentage of individuals who take the stance that suicide is selfish fall guilty to Burnett's rhetoric, that is, those who meet the conditions that these individuals "publicly declare that the recently deceased is selfish" and "[they] feel that those expressing sorrow and sadness are wrong and [they] need to show them that [they] know better, no matter how upsetting [those expressing sorrow] may find it". I know I think that suicide can be selfish and neither of these apply to me. At least, not the way Burnett seems to paint it. Again, I know there are boneheads out there. True story. So, to me, since this point doesn't apply to all in Burnett's opposing camp, it can hardly be taken with serious consideration.      
     I've tried dealing very carefully with this topic and I want to make certain things clear. I do not know Robin Williams nor his motives for taking his own life. I don't know. It may have been genuinely out of thought for his his family and friends. It may have been an act of cowardice. I don't know. Only God knows. I am terribly distressed and anguished by the knowledge that real people suffer at the hand of this great fiend, Depression, and that real people commit suicide after time toiling against it. I know people who toil. The last thing I would do is reduce these beloved people to symbols as I attempt to make a point.
     Depression is an illness that inflicts many, I think, often without conscious allowance or consent. However, suicide is a conscious action requiring thought to realize and is often preluded by deliberate pondering. As sad as the thought is to me, I believe the action solely rests on the shoulders of the individual, not "life", not Depression. Suicide is not a valid option, no matter how low the self-worth or how deep the pain, and, whatever the motive, it should not be commended as such. That would mean tremendous indignation. Life is deeply sacred and worthy, which makes not only suicide immoral, but murder, euthanasia, abortion, as well as all forms of human discrimination essentially evil acts. No, I'm not saying debilitating depression is immoral. I am saying the act of suicide is a terrible theft because each individual life has incredible intrinsic value before the eyes of God who loves His creation and sent his Son to die on their behalf that they might live in infinite bliss by His side. No matter where you are or what your next move will be, I would hope to inform you, if considering suicide, that the option is always there to love and be loved by Him.

Rest in peace, Robin Williams.